churches respond to covid-19
March 21, 2019

Clarifying Our Women in Leadership Policy and More

Church Clarity Team

On March 9th, we received some important feedback on Twitter about how we score churches for their Women in Leadership (WIL) policy. Elijah Walker, a queer, trans man and a pastor, asked why do we not include trans men in deciding whether or not to give a church a “Clear_Egalitarian” score. We decided this question was important enough to merit an entire blog-post!

To recap, we score WIL policies a little different from LGBTQ policies. To receive a “Clear_Egalitarian score,” a church’s website must have an egalitarian policy stated and 50% of its leadership team must consist of people who are not men (i.e. women, non-binary people). Alternatively, if the senior pastor of church is not a man, that suffices as well for a “Clear_Egalitarian” score. We decided to factor into account “representation” in how we score for Women in Leadership because, one, “personnel is policy,” but two, we wanted to ensure churches were “walking the talk” by actually hiring people who are not men, and not just saying that they would in principle.

Before we launched our Women in Leadership initiative back in March 2018, we had discussions amongst our team of volunteers, some of whom identify as trans, whether or not we should include non-binary people or trans men in our representation metrics. We decided to include non-binary folks but not trans men, thus drawing the line at “whoever does not identify as men.”

We decided that the LGBTQ scoring initiative was meant to measure how affirming and inclusive churches are of LGBTQ people, including trans men, while the Women in Leadership initiative was meant to measure how affirming and inclusive churches are of people who are not men. (Yes, technically we perhaps should’ve titled the initiative, Non-Men in Leadership Initiative). The WIL initiative is specifically geared towards assessing, through the limited scope of policy and representation, the extent to which a church is working to combat sexism and misogyny. These forces affect everyone, to be sure, but they especially affect women and all who are not men.

When we received the feedback by Mr. Walker, we reached out to him to talk. We also contacted a group of trans Christian leaders who have provided us advice on and off since we’ve launched. They all have indicated their agreement that, given the goals of our WIL initiative, trans men should not be included in our metrics. This group of leaders includes people who identify as women, men, and non-binary: M Barclay, Paula Williams, Austen Hartke, Hannah Soldner, and Myles Markham.

We want to quote some of their comments in order to provide more context behind why we are doing what we are doing:

“It's true, trans men do experience marginalization within the church, but we absolutely have more power than transfeminine and nonbinary people do, and that's born out in the number of transmasculine people in church leadership right now” (Austen Hartke).

“Regardless the gender history of people benefiting from male privilege, a church and or organization can’t claim to be for the equal value and equal role of non-men if all or most the leaders are still men or people who are transmasculine non-binary and still benefiting from male privilege” (Myles Markham).

So for all these reasons, we will maintain our current scoring methodology, but we wanted to take this as an opportunity to further reflect and clarify why we do what we do.

Another important argument that Mr. Walker brought up was that our options for gender identity are too limited.

Currently, when people submit churches to us through to be scored, they are given the opportunity (not required) to select what the senior pastor’s gender is. The options are: Man, Woman, Non-Binary, and Intersex. (The very last option was recently added, per our advisors’ suggestions).

So why do we not offer more options, such as “trans man,” “cis man,” etc? A big reason is that we want to treat trans men as men, and trans women as women.

But what if, in the case of Mr. Walker, pastors wanted to indicate the fact that they are transgender in the crowdsource form? Why don’t we offer an optional “fill in the blank” section where pastors can simply write in their gender identity?

We considered doing so, but the reality is that most people who submit churches to us are not pastors or on staff for the church they are submitting. So, when a church is submitted, every bit of public information on the church entry is reviewed by multiple volunteers to make sure there is verifiable, online evidence to back up the claims. That’s because anyone could submit a church--it could be an attendee, a staff member, or a total rando--and so we need to double-check all the information. So means if the “submitter” selects “woman” as the gender of the pastor, we check to make sure that the pastor uses she/her pronouns or uses gender-specific identifying language (e.g. “Proud wife”). We do not want to encourage our volunteers to be “verifying” a pastor’s gender history (e.g. seeing if a person is trans).

We believe that if a pastor is submitting the entry themselves, there is sufficient opportunity for the pastor to note their gender identity somewhere on the church entry (e.g. LGBTQ Score Links & Notes). And if we see the submitter is the pastor themselves, we can note that explicitly on the church entry.

The best option for pastors to disclose their gender and/or sexual identity is through our Verified Clear survey, a form which all churches are emailed after they are submitted and scored in our database. Typically, this survey is filled out by someone who has access to the church’s or pastor’s email inboxes -- that is, someone on staff or the senior pastor themselves. The Verified Clear survey asks a number of policy questions, including:

Who serves as senior pastor of your church? Man / Woman / Non-Binary / Intersex

Are there any LGBTQIA individuals serving in your church’s leadership team? ___[Fill in the blank]___

We believe the second question offers sufficient opportunity for pastors to indicate their precise gender & sexuality identification.  All answers to our questions are published on our database, and regardless of the content of answers, the church will receive a “Verified Clear” score.

After corresponding with Mr. Walker, hearing him out, and explaining our reasoning, we believe that he has largely come to understand and agree with our position. His church is now published on our database as Verified Clear. Based on his feedback, we’ve updated our Non-Egalitarian scoring definition to reflect that non-egalitarian policies restrict not just women but also trans men from leadership. We applaud him for his feedback, as his comments have provoked a very important conversation among our team, and we hope it will provide you some food for thought.

So, that’s it. Hope that was clarifying. Any thoughts or comments? Let us know!