Men in Ministry – what are we yet to see?

It was my privilege to be given the opportunity to lead Uniting Communities in its White Ribbon Accreditation process in late 2015.  Over 18 months we pulled together much of the evidence and work that Uniting Communities had done and now continues to do in the prevention of violence against women.  At the award presentation ceremony we were particularly commended for our advocacy.

I have been committed to the prevention of violence against women from early in my Christian faith.  I’ve carried and been shaped in ministry by a range of feminist theology and stories.  I was taught by the people of Uniting Church that the community gives males a extra level of trust that women don’t receive.  This is a privilege that makes my negotiating life easier than it is for women.

Accepting a role at Uniting Communities in 2016 has deepened my commitment because of the range of experience I’ve encountered.  Male workers who seriously live the life of the new masculinity.  Women who have shared their personal stories and deep insights.  Transgender people who have taken me into their confidence.  And the daily work routine of entering an office as one of a few men surrounded by women highly motivated and intelligent women.  Each of these groups of women have shaped me.

I think I am surrounded by women many of whom are smarter, faster and more emotionally mature than I am – and they don’t make me notice it.

My ministry role in the advocacy unit is to think and act in a way which shapes the community as a whole such that we might prevent violence against women. This systems thinking is a integral part of the way Uniting Communities does social services.

Stepping from this environment into the institutional church world is difficult because the level of commitment is not shared by the institution. Here are some examples.

Last year I was separately contacted by two women in ministry who know I’m a feminist informed male.  They had both attended the same Uniting Church leadership program and, for reasons which I’m not about to disclose, they found it disturbing.  They reflected with me on their experience at being in a UCA leadership environment which lacked insight into their experience.  I’ve subsequently asked myself – Why have these women spoken to me?  What am I to do with these stories of my own mob?  As I think about the system that is sustaining this then I need to ask about the male entitled culture which appears to be on the rise.  I decided that there was little else to do but to chalk it up as the cultural clash between the organisation and the institutional church.

Not long after I sat in a Synod meeting listening to the same conference leaders making their pitch to attend their next event. It was presented by three well meaning middle aged male leaders.  The presentation jarred with my being.  I was now on the receiving from that same culture for myself. I immediatley discussed it with my colleagues and when one of our number raised our concern it was brushed aside as ‘being negative’.

When I later reflected on this moment with my supervisor I came to see that I am deeply disappointed.  Only a few people in the Synod meeting shared my concern. That appetite for a cultural change project which takes seriously women men and God seems to be a thing of the past.  It appears that it is now ok to lead in a new masculine leadership culture.

My third example is that I receive contact near each year from some social worker somewhere who has before them a client who’s pastor minister or priest has advised her that ‘She needs to go back to the marriage – because marriage is important’.  And my role is to counteract that argument by pointing out that the churches agreed years ago that the safety of women and children come first.  We have clergy in the Uniting Church who continue to advise their female parishioners to return to their violent marriages.

I stay informed on feminist topics in both the mainstream media and in journals and publications. Just in case you missed it 2017 was a big year.  The #metoo movement had me reading stories of ongoing violence against women.  The Australian community approved equal marriage in-spite of vocifiourous voices from characters like Barnaby Joyce.  And journalist and critic Julia Baird has kept the pressure on religious organisations for our lack of insight and commitment in the prevention of violence against women.  Source:  Submit to your husbands – Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God

But the energy for writing this paper comes from an article posted on Facebook by two colleagues in education.  The article is written by Dr Lucy Peppitt and I found it profoundly disturbing…

My original response was strong and furious – but since that time i’ve edited the text, removed a few adjectives, to make sure its content his clear for all choose to read it.

My response to Lucy Peppiatt blog (Jan 2018)

I’m address this to men who are reading this blog. I’m concerned for the writer Lucy Peppiatt as she appears be proposing a way forward which takes on all the issues as an individual. Can you see her way forward are all individual – share stories, listen to others, learn not be be intimidated, pick yourself up, trust in God. All worthy and important characteristics individual characteristics.

Can you notice that she is talking about us men and our culture that intimidates women?

When was trained in ministry – near 20 years ago I was taught to see this male entitlement as a cultural / systemic issue. In the past my church mob use to be proactive in this… but I’m not sure… I’ll give one very public example. At the last Synod there was a presentation about the new and improved leadership training. It was made by three middle aged men… it was plain blokie male stuff it appeared to be most harmless. But I found it sad that it is now ok in our culture to talk about leadership with only men on the platform. When I’ve raised this with a few colleagues I was told I was living in the past – that women’s equality has been sorted…. that I was being ‘negative’ about our new leadership models.

Yet this text, and some women in leadership I know have spoken to me recently about our current leadership training remain intimidated – and we are letting this continue as if there is nothing wrong.

So my question  “Why does Lucy need to do this at all?” leaves me in a quandary – do I continue to complain about this as a systemic male hegemony which we now gloss over and let the Lucy’s of our world continue to accept responsibility for surviving in the masculine culture we have created? Or do I just be quiet – and allow that to continue?

Let’s flip my concern into a positive question. Let’s ask why does Lucy need to do this at all? Or what can be done to prevent this?

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I’m concerned that the feminist project which created me and many of my colleagues some 20+ years ago is no longer part of our assumed culture.  This is not to say there aren’t pockets of people still working from the same pro-feminist project but It is my view that our culture has become less inclusive of women and others over the last 10 years or so.

My experience of Uniting Communities exacerbates the difference because I spend so much time in a culture which genuinely respects the diversity of all our people in our community.

 Group Questions

So here are some questions to consider

  • Think about your own experiences?  What has this raised for you?
  • Whose voices and stories are privileged in your environment?
  • How similar and how different is the culture between your place of ministry and what I’ve described as the institutional church?
  • How many cultures do you experience? What are they like?