To Meet or Not To Meet
(I began writing this post a month ago, before the news emerged that our vice-president will not meet alone with a woman other than his wife. The news reinforced my resolve to finish this post.)
Not long after transitioning I met with one of my longtime friends, a megachurch senior pastor. The day we met he told me he was actually breaking one of the rules of his congregation. A pastor was not to meet alone with a woman, regardless of the venue. He had told one of his staff members that our meeting was going to take place, and under the circumstances they decided it would be acceptable. I wasn’t sure how I felt about being an exception, but I did enjoy the day.
For decades many megachurches have had a similar policy. In my previous life I didn’t much think about it, just like I didn’t much think about a lot of issues that mattered – really mattered. Now, the policy makes me mad as hell.
As a woman, I do not have the access to a male pastor that is freely available to any male. Another megachurch pastor from my past recently told me he would like to visit, but said he would not meet alone. I do not want anyone else involved in the conversation. But apparently, church policy is church policy.
Well folks, that policy is wrong. Women are being asked to sacrifice access to their pastors because pastors need to “avoid any suggestion of impropriety.” Creating different rules for meetings with men and meetings with women is itself impropriety! The only place in the Western world in which that kind of thinking still survives is within the evangelical bubble.
Thousands of female executives, board members and corporate officers attend evangelical churches every week. They all tolerate the fact that they cannot serve in leadership in those churches. They also tolerate the policy that says they are not allowed to meet alone with male pastors. But how long do you think that tolerance is going to last? I’d venture it will last about as long as the Baby Boomers last, and not one day longer.
Millennials are a different breed. Fifty-one percent of Millennial evangelicals are supportive of marriage equality. According to a 2012 Pew Research Study, Millennials rarely consider gender in their work-related decisions. They have turned traditional views of gender upside down. Thirty-four percent of Millennial women aspire to be bosses, while only 24 percent of Millennial males aspire to leadership positions. How long do you think those born after 1980 are going to put up with these male-dominated evangelical assumptions?
I have been a pastoral counselor since before I transitioned from Paul to Paula. At the time of my transition all of my clients were Millennials, and most were Christians with an evangelical background. Do you know how many of those clients I lost when I transitioned? None. Not one. They all remained. That tells you something about how Millennials view gender.
Baby Boomers do not seem to understand that to Millennials, the notion that a woman cannot meet alone with a male pastor feels as ridiculous as a male psychotherapist who refuses to meet alone with female clients. If male pastors are concerned about impropriety, they should do the same thing psychotherapists do, become educated about how to handle it, so the risks can be minimized for all involved.
In the church, forbidding such meetings is seen as an easier solution, because apparently it is not important for women to have individual access to their pastors. That attitude is dismissive, sexist and misguided. If what Mike Pence and evangelical churches are trying to do is avoid the appearance of impropriety, they are looking backwards, not forwards. It won’t be the first time the church has found itself in a backward facing position. Prejudice of every kind always looks awful in a rearview mirror.
As for my inability to meet alone with male evangelical pastors, I cannot say I am all that bothered. The truth is I’d rather meet with women anyway.
And so it goes.