“I can’t concentrate on your sermon because you’re so pretty.”
“This is our little girl preacher.”
“You are looking fat.”
“If God can use a donkey, I guess he can use women in ministry.”
These are just some of the demeaning comments female United Methodist pastors in eastern North Carolina say they’ve received while doing their jobs.
A newly released video of the comments ― read by male pastors ― illustrates just how much misogyny and sexism women face when they decide to go into ministry.
Many major Christian denominations in the United States support the ordination of women. Still, it’s relatively rare for women to crack what some have called the “stained glass ceiling” and hold top leadership positions within their denominations.
And there are also many subtle ways sexism shows up in congregational settings ― through offensive observations about a clergywoman’s appearance, or pointed jabs about her ability to serve as a pastor in the first place.
The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, granted women full clergy rights in 1956. There were over 10,300 active and retired UMC women clergy in the U.S. in 2014.
Inspired by a similar project conducted by North Carolina Lutherans in October, the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, which covers the eastern part of the state, decided to ask its female clergy to share some of the “unhealthy or inappropriate comments” they’ve received from parishioners or from male pastors.
The video was officially released on June 13 at a conference meeting, during a report given by its Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW), which works to advance women’s roles in the UMC.
The Rev. Tracy Sexton, the local COSROW convener, is the pastor who collected the comments from her colleagues for the video. Some women sent in comments from within the last year, while others sent in harsh words they had heard a decade earlier that still stung.
“Reading these comments as they flooded in was a disturbing event for me — hearing stories of the Body of Christ dishonoring itself through inappropriate words and actions,” Sexton said.
Sexton said the Me Too movement has highlighted a need for accountability within church spaces and hopes that when people watch this video, they will resolve to do their own “transformational work.” For Christians, Sexton said, that means honoring women as fellow members of the body of Christ.
“As Christians, each one of us needs to be mindful of personal transformation,” she said. “For too long, both inside and outside the Church, transformational accountability hasn’t been practiced.”
For many of the men in the video, the comments provided an eye-opening look into the lives of their female colleagues.
“No! No, no, no,” one visibly stunned male pastor said, before reading out the comment, “I keep picturing you naked under your robe.”
“Really?” he said. “That one is really wrong.”
Another comment stated, “If I were 20 years younger, you wouldn’t be able to keep me away from you.” After reading it, a male pastor shook his head and said, “That’s appalling.”
The men were asked at the end of the video to reflect on how the comments made them feel. Their reactions ranged from “furious” to “ashamed.”
“Those colleagues who happen to be female have had many more obstacles to face than I’ll ever face,” a male pastor said. “It just deepens my appreciation for their willingness to continue to press on when it would probably be easy to walk away.”
This article has been updated with comments from Rev. Tracy Sexton and a clarification of when the video was released.