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Lead like a girl

July 06, 2019

GROWING IN GRACE
BEN GOSDEN

A few years ago, a powerful commercial aired during the Super Bowl. It was simply known as #LikeAGirl. The commercial begins with various adults standing in front of a camera and an off-screen director giving them motions to act out.

“Run like a girl.”

“Fight like a girl.”

“Throw like a girl.”

You see the actors giggle and offer some pretty over-the-top portrayals: one runs like they’re being swept away, another flaps their hands in a discombobulated way, and another throws as if they can hardly lift an ink pen.

It’s cute and funny. But then the commercial takes a turn.

Little Dakota, all of 10 years old, introduces herself. She’s given the same commands, only she runs really fast, punches with fists of fury, and throws as if she could launch a football to the moon. A series of shots portrays many young girls doing much like Dakota when they’re given those commands.

The commercial then asks: “When did, ‘Like a girl’ become an insult?”

The fact that it is 2019 should not let any of us assume we’ve perfected what it means to treat women equally. The statistics continue to show a wage disparity between men and women in the same profession. The terrible part of the “me too” movement is that we’re just now beginning to acknowledge openly the fact that men have been abusing women for too long.

And the church is right there in the struggle to get gender disparity right. There was a recent video produced by the North Carolina Annual Conference where male clergy read comments that other men have said to female clergy.

“I can’t concentrate on the sermon because I’m distracted by your looks.”

“I think scripture just sounds better read by a male voice.”

“This is our little girl preacher.”

Those are just three highlights from the video’s first 60 seconds. The entire video is seven minutes long. It highlights the fact that women continue to be treated differently in leadership than their male colleagues, even in the church.

Did you know that John Wesley himself gave women a license to preach? His mother was the greatest spiritual influence on his life, so it makes sense. He removed the word “obey” from the marriage liturgy and spoke openly about a woman’s right to offer her voice in leadership in the church.

As a denomination, we struggled early in recognizing a woman’s call to ministry. It was 1924 until the Methodist Episcopal Church allowed a woman to be ordained. It’s been nearly 100 years, and woman continue to struggle to find their voice in leadership.

I write this column in full recognition of my privilege as a male in ministry. Nobody ever asks me if family commitments will get in the way of my leadership. Nobody ever makes remarks about my appearance. No visitors ever gives me a second look when I step into the pulpit. I work in one of the most male-dominated professions in America.

So why do I write this column?

I am the son of a single mother. The vast majority of my formative years growing up in church were spent with a woman as my pastor. I am the father to a daughter. And I’m a husband to a professional woman who somehow balances being an equal partner at home and will soon be earning twice as much money as me thanks to her brand-new nurse practitioner license. I have grown up and been formed by women who have led and sustained the church in good times and bad. I would not be where I am today without the leadership of women. And the fact that we still have work to do to even the playing field in leadership means I must lend my voice to the effort.

The Methodist Church is one with a tradition where John Wesley’s mother was the greatest spiritual influence in his life. He was a leader who gave women the license to preach and who removed the word “obey” from the marriage rite. We have a tradition of ordaining women since 1924.

If you cannot receive and celebrate the leadership of a woman, whether in lay leadership or as ordained clergy, then you may just be in the wrong church.

What could we all do, together, to ensure that ALL persons called to ministry – whether ordained or through lay leadership – be recognized for their gifts and celebrated to lead where God calls them through their baptism?

What does it mean to lead like a girl? In my experience, it means to lead pretty darn effectively.

The Rev. Ben Gosden is senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at ben@trinity1848.org.

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