I looked up and perhaps ‘woke up’ to realize that I have fairly happily jumped out of the fray of ministry and most especially gender advocacy for nearly ten years. I stepped away to lick my wounds and be angry, because it was getting too hard and I was burned out and exhausted. I didn’t want to fight any more. I gave up.
“The fate of a nation depends on how it treats its women.” – Malcolm X.
What’s brought me “back” has been this damn book, Deadly Viper, and beginning to read blogs about the microcosm of the Christian world and realizing that after nine years — it seems that it’s almost exactly the same.
Okay, I’ll admit that my sampling is small and cannot be representative. There have got to be success stories and some happy women and minorities in the church and Christian world. There have got to be examples of organizations that are doing multi-ethnicity well. I’ll look. You know me, I will look. But the language and graphics used in Deadly Viper and the whole Presidential search for Wheaton to name two. Or the painful musings of a new person in my life, Kathy Khang, author of More than Serving Tea and multi ethnic director for a parachurch organization. All of these make me shake my head and say wow.
But the other thing I realized is that I owe it to myself and to those involved in my situation to at least get some closure. I haven’t spoken with people in IV about this. For that, I am wrong. I should have had some conversations about why I was really leaving, what I experienced, and worked at the very reconciliation that I refer to below. I’m a hypocrite in this.
But even as I write I can’t help hearing that nagging and doubting voice saying: “How long have you been gone? They didn’t want you there and aren’t knocking on your door to come back. They are not going to care about what happened a decade ago. Let it go. ” But for me, it is as fresh as if it was yesterday. Not the pain, because I’m far enough removed from it all to not feel it anymore. But the injustice of how that whole situation was handled still stands. The fact that it was never resolved, and that I was “just sort of set out to pasture.”
A lot has changed. It won’t be easy for me. I’ll likely sound like a whining woman, a thing I dread and loath. But I will do something about this. I just found this great quote by Marian Wright Edelman: “If you as parents cut corners, your children will too. If you lie, they will too. If you spend all your money on yourselves and tithe no portion of it for charities, colleges, churches, synagogues, and civic causes, your children won’t either. And if parents snicker at racial and gender jokes, another generation will pass on the poison adults still have not had the courage to snuff out.”
And I’ll add, if you’re too scared to stick up for yourself, your kids will be afraid too.
And to follow-up on my ongoing conversation about race, gender and Deadly Viper, I wrote my letter to Zondervan. It’s similar to what I said in my last post, but also different in many ways.
Dear Mr. Vines, Jason:
I wasn’t sure if putting Deadly Viper in the subject line would make you immediately biased against my email, because of all the frustration you’ve undoubtedly experienced over the last few weeks. I hope not, because I honestly am writing out of care and concern, as a fellow believer, committed to reconciling our differences in the kingdom of God not fueling our fires.
That said, I am a forty-something white woman. I have a background in communications both by study at Azusa Pacific University and in my thirteen years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I was the director of Urbana Communications for three of the student mission conventions ’96, 2000, ’03. My responsibilities included PR, marketing, all publications, the website, development, etc.
But I’m writing today as a frequent consumer of books and a woman. I am writing today out of care for and concern for Christian women. I tell you my background because I can never take that hat off really, but I can also never stop being a woman (thankfully) and since I began to read about some of the controversy around the culturally insensitive and offensive book, Deadly Viper I’ve concluded that the only way to change that story is to boycott the book. Ha, a boycott of one is silly and ineffective but you know now that I will never buy that book or books like it, and I want to tell you why.
Apparently the authors are nice guys and didn’t mean any harm with it. I can accept that on the level of ignorance. But I have to say it’s still not okay for an organization like Zondervan to produce a book like that, with the racial caricatures and inappropriate humor, and sexist generalizations, in this day and age. This is the 21st century and it’s just not okay!
I had read on some blogs that aspects of Deadly Viper are offensive to women. But before you get annoyed because we women are always offended, please understand how much I do not want to write this email knowing you may think I should stop whining.
Here’s something I wrote recently on my blog:
“…For me it starts with questioning why people, but Christians especially, cause one another pain so needlessly out of our ignorance. And especially why do we cause pain for those that are different from us? …. We, above all, as followers of Christ are instructed to love, as Jesus loved especially if a person is in pain. I’m especially cognizant of this because I have three kids very close in age and my husband and I are constantly being called upon to administer justice.(i.e. break up fights.) Is it: a) their own fault for being too sensitive or getting hurt? b) the fault of the person who caused the pain in the past so it’s pushing buttons and causing additional anguish, or c) the fault of the person who caused the pain this time?
I suspect though, as we try to figure out who did what to whom and why, that we are asking the wrong questions. Someone was hurt and pain occurred. Where do we go from here? How to make it right. How to create conversation and learn? These are the things I try to work through with my children and these are the things we should focus on now, as it relates to very difficult painful experiences.
Let’s be honest, Mr. Vines, sexism is real though I genuinely wish it were not so. And it causes women pain, sometimes deeply and scarring because it is often repeatedly happening. And yet we live with it. We learn to get along. Sometimes we even smile and act polite; we don’t want to offend. Occasionally, we get angry. Women don’t want to be perceived as a b***h. Christians don’t want to be perceived a liberal. Many don’t want to be labeled a feminist. And so we live with the pain of repeated offenses, getting along and leaning on those who are the lightning rods for us.
I haven’t been in the fray for a long time. And I haven’t missed it, not really. But allow me to tell you a true story, the short version of nearly ten years of my life. Every word is true although admittedly my perspective. As I said, I worked at InterVarsity (a more open organization in terms of affirming women.) I was lucky in that I was given tons of responsibility and opportunities for leadership. I was using my abilities, influencing, it was a good place. As fast as I could catch I was being thrown responsibility and I love it. I was Gen X right when Gen X was hot and I was able to bring that to the organization’s communications efforts. Admittedly, I was promoted quickly over just a few years.
Running parallel to this was a tension growing between myself and another leader. He was older (by two decades ), white and male obviously, intellectual,theological, super influential and made a big splash all the time and he had made himself integral to all aspects of the organization.
I was an up and comer and although people liked my work, and my work ethic and my productivity, it wasn’t long before it was clear that we were competitors. There are more spiritual ways of saying it without sounding crass, but there’s only so much turf in a small organization and we both wanted it. Were fighting for it all the time. Oh, not to each others’ faces but in everything we did we were working toward taking charge of the area of communication. Trust me I was not a perfect leader by any means, but I would say probably my greatest vice (other than an insane desire to be perfect and in control of everything and working too hard) was working my staff too hard and not providing enough coaching. No one had ever coached me and I didn’t know how, but that’s another topic (throwing leaders into the fire without grooming them.) His vice? Temper, temper. He threw a Bible at my friend in anger. He treated people (below him) horribly. He emotional/verbal abuse which I would hear about and would bring up with my supervisor and it hit the President’s office and stayed there. They were buddies.
I cried floods of tears at home to my husband and I prayed, but at work I tried to prove to everyone what I “just knew” — that I was supposed to be the one in charge. I was young, innovative, I was ‘the future.’ Meanwhile, I was also having babies while working full-time. I had no intention of slowing down or working less or becoming an at-home mom. I was committed to that job.
I would have these meetings with my supervisor where I would try to make him understand how horrible it all was the infighting and how people were being treated and that people were leaving the organization because of this person, and as he said “We waded through blood together.”
Then one day he brought me into his office and he had a time line on the whiteboard. I kid you not, he had a time line for my life where I would finish out the current assignment, go be a mommy for a few years, and this person hopefully would have retired or something, but the organization would have more space for me, and then I would come back!
Once I got over the hurt of even having a conversation like that, and knowing that he was done advocating for me AND that he was essentially telling me I had gone as far as I was going to there I finished the gig I had and quit. That was nine years ago and I haven’t gone back and they haven’t asked me. That man, has folded everything I used to do and more into his domain and is very happily ensconced.
Draw your own conclusions.
AND SO I FOUND A PARTIAL COPY OF DEADLY VIPERS ON-LINE. I began to read. I first learned one of the authors owns a Media Firm (Yikes! What a revelation!) They need some sensitivity training. But I digress, sort of.
You know what I’d like to ask the authors of Deadly Vipers? Do they have daughters? Because if they do, how can they speak so diminutively about girls and women? Here’s an example:
“there’s little old us looking like school girls with plaid skirts on, because we are unskilled and undisciplined in the area of character. We’re weaklings with rail skinny arms and toothpick legs.” DV, page 8
I have a daughter. I must say how much I resent being used as an example of weak and pathetic, totally lacking in character and discipline and I do not want my daughter thinking that she is either. Even worse, perhaps would be my sons learning about leadership from macho, cool, trendy dewdes.
These guys even make fun of ugly people!! Yes, I mean nerds, geeks, “four eyes,” the person you would never have danced with in high school, me. So that did make me cringe and wonder at their sophomoric attempts at humor and need for being perceived as cool.
But I stopped reading when I read the phrase: “We are asking you to go balls out with us.” mostly because I had to look it up. Are you serious? Don’t you all have editors or someone reading this stuff? Surely, I’m thinking, they can’t mean what I think they mean …? I can tell you that you exclude women(and culturally sensitive men) from your book/s at this point, as this is something that we females just physically can’t do.
But if we forget about Deadly Vipers, because I don’t really want to beat up on these poor guys. They are just trying a little too hard to be cool, and hip and relevant.
So, putting my PR hat on… a few thoughts on offensive situations like this.
1) Say you’re sorry and you messed up, when you’re sorry and you mess up. Just do it cause it will make you a stronger person. Humility is a part of integrity. Then, fix it.
Once I produced a promotional poster for Urbana featuring all sorts of images of people serving in different capacities. It was diverse, it was cool. What I didn’t notice, nor did the graphic designer, or the writer, or a whole slew of other people who saw the thing, was that all of the servees were ethnic or darker skinned and the servers were lighter skin. The posters got a reaction from our multi-ethnic staff that they could not and would not use a poster like this and you can imagine. We had our conference calls and strategy meetings.
I was crushed. But I had messed up. So, I pulled the posters, went over budget to quickly create a new promo poster. And I can tell you that I will never forget that. Not because I messed up, but because I saw how you can do so and survive if your heart is remorseful and you are willing to change.
2) Change your infrastructure. I don’t care what you believe about 1 Timothy (okay I do, but it isn’t relevant here.) you must have women and minorities at the table on all levels of your organization if you want to stop making these huge grotesque blunders. (Well, they are huge and grotesque to me.) In the board room, in the leadership, in the communications team, as your artists and ideas people, we need to be there. I’m not an ethnic minority so I can’t speak to that, but there are people who consult on such things who could generally help the communications of an organization. With my background I could easily look over anything quickly to tell you if it’s insulting to women. Many times a few edits would save a whole lot of head aches.
3) If that seems too impossible a task (to hire someone I mean) then get your organization some cultural and gender sensitivity training. Again, there are tons of firms that could help both secular and Christian. Every person on staff should get such training.
And then tonight I read about Presidential hiring process at Wheaton College and to be honest I had no idea Wheaton had gotten to be so backward. One would assume that Wheaton would hire the best qualified people without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex which is not only illegal, but morally wrong. Truly, I cannot believe that women and minority candidates aren’t being considered.
Like Justice Sonia Sotomeyor said, “if you are a white male who (still) thinks that race and gender don’t matter, conjure up the image of a Supreme Court made up of all-hispanic and black women, and you will know how the rest of the US feels when faced by the prospect of an overwhelmingly white male Supreme Court.”
I’ll conclude by saying that I know if women want an equal world, we have to work for it by accepting positions of authority and responsibility and not by walking away from the fight, like I did. You need to know that I believe I gave it everything and frankly almost lost my faith in humanity in the process. (I only mentioned the name of the organization to you so that you’d understand it’s not small fry organization.)
Here’s my heartfelt prayer: For a day when men can work side by side with women and people of every color and stripe, with joy and common purpose. That did not happen for me, but I speak out here because I hope that things will be better for my sons and daughters, for my nieces and nephews, who are all bi-racial or of a minority culture. It will be a better world for these boys and girls. It just has to be.
I believe fundamentally, it is our hearts that give us up every time. And out of our hearts spew what we believe. It’s our hearts that need changing. But until that day comes, can we at least edit for less offensive language even if you don’t believe in the principles of equality?
Melody Harrison Hanson
Imagine Photography, LLC
distinctive photography for hire
I will sort all this out.
I’ll take it one day at a time, before my Maker, asking what is it you require of me? Why me? What do you want?
And I’ll try to live it out with integrity and dignity.
Thanks, again, for reading to the end.