Peggy McIntosh saw a knapsack in 1989. First appearing in Peace and Freedom Magazine, her now famous article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” included a list of white privileges or social benefits for those who identify as a white person in America. Seeing the invisible proved pivotal in our conversations about race as her list allowed us to check off our common understandings of whiteness and privilege. It offered an opportunity to name the discrepancies in treatment and to change the social agreement that we made with race.
I was so inspired by her work that I created a list of my own. Titled “Black Disadvantage: Unpacking the Obvious Baggage of Blackness,” the post that appears on my blog, offers readers an opportunity to examine the particular difficulties of carrying one’s self as black. So, since I have done this before, this list should not be viewed as one that bashes male pastors. I was affirmed in my calling, and licensed and ordained at a church led by a male pastor. Some of my best friends are male pastors and I even serve with a male pastor.
Seriously, my only desire is to get you and me to think differently about women as pastors and preachers, to broaden our understanding of Christian leadership and, hopefully, to add your name to the list of those who support women in ministry. It is my contribution to normalizing her presence behind the pulpit and assisting churches in seeing her. Ironically, the very Scriptures she feels called to proclaim render her calling invisible. Each chapter and verse cited becomes the list.
To be sure, we talked about gender differences in pastoral leadership at my seminary. I took a class, read the required books and some of the suggested readings, participated in classroom discussions and wrote papers. I received an A- at the end of the semester. But understanding the material being presented and the messages being given to me in real life scenarios now is quite different. Reading case studies of women ministers and becoming one are worlds apart.
While this list is far from conclusive, as I am at the beginning of my life as a pastor, I hope that it might act as a syllabus for us who lead today. Created to level the pulpit, you can be sure that most male pastors will not have the experiences listed here. Therein lay the privileges.
1. The Bible will not be used to disprove your calling. While the Bible proves that a woman can carry God in her body, it has been used as evidence that she cannot carry the Word of God in her mouth.
2. Your calling as a preacher or pastor is not viewed as heresy and you will escape threats of being burned at the steeple.
3. The majority of books on calling, pastoring and preaching will speak of pastors as male.
4. Your gender will not precede your role as pastor and your role as pastor will not be negatively defined due to your gender.
5. Your body’s ability to reproduce will not be viewed as problematic in conversations concerning your employment at the church.
6. Your salary and/or honorariums will be commensurate with your experience and performance. It will match or exceed that of other pastors, regardless of gender. In many cases, women preachers and pastors receive lower compensation than their male counterparts. It is described as an “ovary offering” in some circles.
7. Members will form relationships with you around your leadership role. Your leadership role will not be viewed as a detriment to your relationships.
8. You will not be viewed as a (church) wife, sister or daughter. Persons will identify with you as their pastor and not treat you as a member of their family.
9. You will not choose attire to ensure that members and visitors do not sexualize your body.
10. Your physical strength will be assumed and not questioned. Your attempt to move chairs and tables will not be deemed unnecessary.
11. Your ability to speak with authority will not be viewed as an anomaly or a potential threat to the value and role of your spouse.
12. Members will not ask you when you are having another child.
13. You will not be asked if you have a safety pin or other tools to mend clothing on special occasions like weddings.
14. It will be assumed that you know what you’re talking about during meetings.
15. Members will not be surprised by your ability to preach, to pray and to read and interpret Scripture.
16. Members will not be worried about whether or not you can balance the responsibilities of ministry and family.
17. No one will question your choice of shoes or attempt to re-dress you before the worship service.
18. No one will ask you who is keeping your child(ren) during the worship service.
19. Your body will not be considered a distraction to the sermon or become the morning message.
20. Visitors will assume that you are the pastor. She or he probably won’t ask you, “When is the pastor coming back?”
21. When you answer the door of the church, it will not be assumed that you are the secretary. She or he will not ask, “May I speak to the pastor?”
22. You will not be asked what you are cooking for the holidays or what you are bringing to the Wednesday night fellowship dinner.
23. No one will ask you to watch their child(ren) during the worship service.
24. Women will not see you as a threat to their position, their presence or sense of self.
25. You will not feel pressured to “be nice” or not to “fuss” or “nag” when problems arise with the building or in meetings.
McIntosh lists 50 privileges, so I’m halfway there. Feel free to add to the list.