In my last post I struggled with my place in and expectations of the church. A few months later and now I am a youth director and justice associate at a local church. Funny how life works.
As a UMC lesbian graduating from seminary in Texas, working in the church didn’t seem like much of a possibility. Who would hire me? Not only am I lesbian but I talk about queer issues…a lot. On top of that, I’m just as bound to bring up other things like racism, sexism, animal rights, etc and expound upon them theologically. Amidst my job search, I thought church wasn’t an option. Fortunately, I was wrong. Not only did a UMC church hire me, but they seem to like me for these very reasons.
I have to admit – after having been out of the church for over two years, it’s a little scary to re-enter in such an intimate and committed way. I now live with both the famous feminist voices of old and the voices of my religious tradition constantly battling one another. While I now understand, more than ever, what feminists mean when they claim you can’t be both religious and feminist, I want to challenge them. It’s not that I disagree with their claims. Participating in religion inherently perpetuates sexism and I think it will for years and years to come. But I also think we need religion. I think it offers something unique that, somehow, also challenges sexism.
And while I hear the passionate cries of those faithful to the Christian tradition, I also want to open their eyes to the truth of feminist and other marginalized voices. So scared to lose what we have, so many religious leaders do all they can to protect the church and the wounds it has caused and continues to cause. I get it, but I also think we need to stop, own up, and consider our past as we move forward.
Both “sides” hold great truths and where I find myself betwixt and between them is a struggle. With this new job opportunity, I am choosing again faith. Faith that the church will be worth the inevitable cost. Faith that I can have more of a positive impact than a negative one on the youth with whom I will talk theology, tradition, and Christ. Faith that I am participating in the healing of the world, more than the harming of it.
On my first day of work, my senior pastor and I met with other clergy from across the central region of Texas at a maximum security prison. We were taken on a tour by the warden with hopes of focusing on the administrative segregation section where inmates are housed alone, 23 hours a day. The cells were disturbingly small with three tiny slits of glass providing incredibly little visual space. Many of us on the tour were concerned, with many others across the country, about such quarters being a form of psychological torture. It was an educational, albeit disturbing, day.
However, on a more abstract level it was also incredibly hopeful. My senior pastor does this sort of activism on a regular basis – and the church encourages it. The other clergy present were also there because they cared about the inmates behind the walls. My job is to be a part of this sort of work, not in spite of being a part of a religious community, but because of it.
Mary Ann is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is currently working as the Youth Director and Justice Associate at a United Methodist Church. Her primary interests reside in the intersections of church and society, particularly in realms of sexuality, gender, race, and ecology. You can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/ladygadfly.