Making Up Church

Last night, Wednesday, October 28, I stayed home from church because my son was sick.  At 7:39 PM I received a very angry text from my wife, informing me that the speaker had just made a particularly derogatory joke about women.  When she got home, we talked about it.  We FUMED about it.  This morning Sarah decided to reflect on how it feels to be a woman in such a service.  I’ll let her tell you the rest in her own words.

It’s 4:30AM and I am completely exhausted from an already long week.  I took my 7 year-old daughter to church last night for a special service.  She wanted to meet a missionary just as she has at previous years at this event.  I would not be surprised if she becomes a missionary; she independently prays for missionaries she makes connections with.  It is powerful to hear her talk about a special connection she has with these individuals… she’s only 7!

Last night I sat in the service while she met a missionary with other kids.  During the service, the guest speaker made an awful joke: “Some Pentecostals don’t believe women should wear makeup.  I believe some women need makeup.” And everyone laughed.  He continued, “Did I really just say that?” And everyone laughed again.

Except me! I was so furious I had a texting conversation with my husband and could not maintain a level of normal concentration for the rest of the service.

I completely understand that I am incredibly sensitive to this topic and it is possible I am overreacting due to my personal experience.  I do not enjoy sharing my personal experience, but I think it’s relevant so here it goes.  I had horrible acne that peaked before high school.  I could not go one week (that’s being generous) for about 3-4 years without someone commenting on my face.  I would hear, “What happened to your face?” from peers, teachers, parents of other kids, random people in grocery stores and shopping malls, my dentist, and various family members.  It was absolute hell!  There were days I didn’t want to go out in public because I did not want one more comment.

“What happened to your face,” was a mild comment.  I had a teacher in third grade tell me I could not come to school because I had chickenpox.  My mom attempted to explain several times it was not chickenpox but acne, and she still persisted to make comments because I was “too young for acne.”  I had a teacher run into me and say bluntly, “What’s wrong with your face?”  When we made caricatures of each other in fifth grade and were supposed to pick out one flaw to highlight, guess who turned into “pizza face.”

I could not be comfortable in my own home.  My brothers’ friends would come over to play, and instead of playing would find it hilarious to comment on my pimples.  I was constantly forced to eat only healthy food and avoid chocolate, potato chips, and junk food of any kind because it might be contributing to the acne.  Food was hidden from me starting about a week before my dermatology appointments so that I would not flair up and be put on more medications.  At one point I counted how many medications I tried between oral and topical prescriptions, and it was around 20 for a period of three years.  Nothing worked.  I had a lonely childhood and really never experienced life as most people do because of this.

It didn’t wreck me, but I spent a lot of time alone, crying.

Back to church. This guest speaker has been at our church before and my husband and I almost walked out due to some inappropriate jokes and comments that objectified women.  After that service, the night before we were leaving for vacation, I sent an email to several pastors asking them not to invite the guest back for Sunday morning and outlined several reasons.  That bought me a meeting with a pastor.  I thought the meeting was productive, but obviously didn’t hold any weight as they invited him back.

Some of his unfiltered jokes include:

“People are so confused about sexuality these days.  I like to call it trysexualality because people are willing to try anything.”

“All people can dance.  Men can dance.  Men, imagine you have 8 kids and do not want any more.  Your wife comes back from the doctor and says she is not pregnant.  You will be dancing then!”

He also compared women to incubators.

I feel like everyone is drinking the Kool-aid.  I constantly ask myself if I am overreacting and being too sensitive, but I do not think I am.  I would like to send an email to all church pastors asking, “So next year can we invite a women to speak and call ‘some men’ fat and ugly and tell them they NEED to work out?”  It wouldn’t work, but I do not think it is a far stretch from the makeup comment.

What comes next?

My husband and I have played nice up until this point.  It goes without saying we’ve been praying about this.  We’ve respectfully engaged with pastors and met with them individually.  I feel because this church is very large and successful, all the pastors have become blind to a certain degree.  They focus on all their past accomplishments instead of seeing what’s wrong with how things are going right now.  I feel they protect themselves with politically correct, automatic, memorized responses to issues such as same-sex marriage and gender roles in the church.

I want to scream

News flash! The Gospel does not need your protection!! Take the blinders off and dare to see reality!

I will be praying hard because Nate and I have had enough, and clearly this situation is not going to change through human logic and polite meetings.  God is going to have to stir hearts of a large group of complacent pastors and elders (most of them male) if anything is going to change.  We may end up leaving the church – we have talked about this for the last several months – but we are not going away without fighting this culture first.

**Cover photo from http://www.desktophdphotos.com/woman-crying-photos.html**

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20 thoughts on “Making Up Church

  1. I don’t go to church currently….but the one phrase I heard repeatedly from my pastor of 20 years was…”if the barn needs painting, paint it!”

    So sad….if only I could go back to react to those moments….I have enough cajones now…to stand up and say ….”that’s wrong, sir!!”

    If only more men would stand up. …

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    1. I’m sorry Dove. That is terrible, and quite frankly disgusting. That should never be uttered in any context, but especially by someone in a position of pastoral leadership.

      Sadly, masculinity in the church is defined against femininity in an incredibly antagonistic fashion. You are right, this needs to change.

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  2. Sarah,
    I know this happened a little while ago, but I just came across this blog. I just wanted to encourage you in saying that you are not over-reacting. You are reacting exactly as you should. I have also suffered through sermons with jokes similar to those, and it is terrible. I’ve left church so angry before which is sad. We should be leaving uplifted and joyful in the Lord… not full of anger and disgust. Praying for you both!

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  3. I am going to come at this from a different perspective. It is a waste of time to engage the “leaders”. The fact they are viewed as “leaders” is part of the problem. How would humble servants..,under rowers…as Paul referred to himself…actually deal with precious siblings in Christ?

    So don’t waste your time. Ask those laughing how a disfigured sister in Christ might be hurt by such throw away lines? Ask yourself why the “spectators” we’re laughing and giving credence to such insulting buffoonery.

    The speaker is actually giving people hints as to his own personal problems. Start there.

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    1. Lydia, I agree to an extent. I don’t think it’s an either/or though. We have to engage the people to get through to leadership, but we also need to give people a chance. “All things to all people” as it were.

      I appreciate your insight, thank you 🙂

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  4. Hi Sarah, thanks so much for taking the time to write this. Evidence of this attitude towards women is quite honestly one of the major reasons I left the church years ago: the petty jokes made by pastors/elders secure in their right to make petty jokes and gain a cheap laugh by deliberately putting down their sisters in Christ. Unfortunately I grew up in a complementarian church structure (ironically with egalitarian parents, which was a huge blessing), so I grew up extremely resentful of how by mid-teens it was made clear that I was the future property of one or other of the boys! It all compounded to drive me away.

    I’m so glad you’re both calling out this attitude in your church. I simply don’t understand why the church in general is so incredibly backward in correcting the most fundamental failures of respect and community. How can you be sisters and brothers in Christ if you are deliberately putting down half your family? Please keep us updated on the resolution to this!

    On another note, Sarah, I also wanted to sympathise with you on your experiences growing up. While I never had major acne, I had an accident at six years old which meant my teeth were extremely messed up for the next ten years (orthodonists are the best). “What’s wrong with your teeth? What’s wrong with your face? What happened to you?” were the common responses when people met me. In a way, now, I’m grateful for it as it hardened me up against personal comments, but at the same time it was totally unnecessary and I expect better of people.

    I will be praying that the pastors at your church actually start listening to you and don’t harden their hearts. Somewhere, somehow, this culture has to change.

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    1. Lucy,

      Thank you so much for your words of solidarity, support, and encouragement. You’re comments on my posts have been a source of comfort, as I feel a bit exposed doing this.

      Thanks for the kind words, will provide an update when something happens. Thanks for following, reading, and engaging.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I hope that the leadership takes your concerns seriously this time. I know how discouraging it can be to be when leadership completely disregards your legitimate objections to guest speakers. I feel that it is usually more beneficial to change the culture of a church than to leave it, but if you have done everything you can do and they still disregard you, it may be healthier to leave. About ten years ago, I brought up to my pastor that a man that the church frequently praised and had pray in front of the church had an inappropriate relationship with me when he was an adult church leader and I was a teen. The pastor agreed to meet with me and literally FELL ASLEEP while I was expressing this incredibly painful experience. That was one of the last straws and my husband and I left the church after that. We have been so grateful to attend a church that has a much healthier environment for the last six years and it has really helped to heal a lot of the pain of the past unhealthy, dismissive, sexist, and abusive experiences that I have experienced in the past in church.

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  6. Those comments were not funny and they denigrated women. I hope your church leadership will not only listen to you but realize how irresponsible it is to allow such comments to come out from the pulpit, whether from a guest speaker or anyone else.

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  7. I have had similar experiences. I finally got fed up and wrote to one of the speakers who regularly visits our church, explaining the impact of his comments on the people in the church (derogatory comments about women affect both men and women). He didn’t respond to me personally (I invited him to), but the next time he spoke at our church, he apologized saying he had been going through a number of difficulties at the time of his last visit and so had said some careless things. The problem is that he said those kind of things every time he came and spoke (which I pointed out in my letter to him), and so revealed his contempt for women. That was the point of my letter, that his “jokes” veiled a contempt for women. Sigh…

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  8. Just wow. I am glad you are speaking up. Our church had several assistant pastor candidates come in as guest speakers. One made a sexist comment that set me off. Another made a point of connecting graciously with women. I definitely put in a good word for him. I’ve been told many others did, too, and he was hired. I can’t wait until he starts.

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Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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