By Young Lee Hertig
In last week’s blog, Angela Ryo addressed a poignant point that often falls on deaf ears:
We all want change and growth in our churches, but I wonder if we are willing to take on the pain that comes with such growth. Too many times, the pain becomes the inevitable lot of those who are most vulnerable and disposable within the faith community so that the dominant group can continue to thrive and grow.
One of the silent but salient issues of the church that pains many women is class inequity. For instance, even if Asian North American female clergy are hired as full-time solo pastors, they are often only given a part-time salary. In one particular instance which I’m well aware of, the church’s membership was 300+, allowing them to afford full-time clergy. In fact, right before this woman pastor was hired as full-time clergy on a part-time salary, an interim male pastor was compensated a full-time salary.
Recently I got to experience this at their ethnic church’s annual council. Upon setting aside three days for traveling to and from a remote retreat site, preaching, and leading workshops, the chair of the council addressed me as “Mrs” when he made a big deal of handing me an envelope right after I finished the workshop. It felt rather odd to hear him addressing me “Mrs” after all other moderators addressed me “Reverend Dr.” I am not one to be caught up in titles but in this instance, it caught my attention. Sure enough, it was a deliberate move on his part because he compensated my services as if I were an MDiv student in training despite the enthused responses from the participants.
Having heard many stories of the unjust salaries of female clergy at one particular church in the council, I wanted to hear firsthand from the female clergywoman about it. In no time at all, she poured out her pain to me. Hearing about the insulting treatment that the female clergy at this church has been tolerating for the last three years was quite infuriating. Lest no other Asian American women clergy be treated this offensively, I wrote an email to the chair of this council more than two weeks ago and still have not heard from him. Simply because of our gender, no matter how hard we work, Asian North American women leaders are treated by the church as second class. Deep down, the men in charge want women leaders to offer free services.
Although so pervasive, this blatant pay disparity between male and female Asian North American clergy needs to be addressed. At my age, I am done tolerating such blatant classism based on gender difference. A lot of collective work needs to be done to break this silent exploitation in the church. In this case, the oblivious church needs to feel the pain they inflict on women clergy. The body of Christ is not feeling the pain of this particular clergywoman as she suffers silently.
Jesus teaches that our hearts are where our treasures are. What if churches were to treasure the labor of clergywomen? What if churches grew enough to feel the pain of women leaders and to honor their sacred labors? I so look forward to those days to come in the near future.
Rev. Dr. Young Lee Hertig is executive director and a founding member of ISAAC (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) and AAWOL (Asian American Women On Leadership). She teaches in the Global Studies and Sociology Department at Azusa Pacific University and is an ordained Presbyterian clergy as well as a commissioner of the Presbyterian Church USA to the National Council of Churches Faith and Order.