🧵 A lot has recently come to light concerning the issues at Bethlehem Baptist Church. See @lharant1 @MekalaAnn @NirmalMekala @crystaljbowers @johnathonbowers @obiwanjanobi @sahr_brima @sarah_brima and many more.
To my knowledge, nothing has been publicly shared about the Downtown Women’s Staff Report. It seems worth sharing for its content alone, as it details numerous stories of female staff experiencing sexism.
But it also mirrors the process of the Ethnic Harmony Task Force in that it was commissioned by the elders, was subsequently mishandled and largely disregarded by the elders, and its existence and findings were not shared with the congregation at large.
I will share my personal stories and observations with specificity, and in order to preserve the anonymity of my fellow female staff members I will share other aspects of the report thematically. I am sharing in order to stand with those who have shared before me.
I also share this in hope that God would grant growth and repentance to the appropriate people connected to BBC. I share this in hope that godly change will come now even though it did not come then, when I first tried to bring these issues up while on staff.
One theme was the vulnerability of women in a culture that teaches them to fear what might happen when they speak up:
A common fear about sharing was that the feedback would be dismissed as “emotion-driven,” “based on misperceptions rather than reality,” or “illogical,”
which are sexist tropes often used to dismiss women’s perspective.

A second theme was the marginalization of women in the staff and church culture:
For example, the church website pictured only the pastoral staff.
Also, during the yearly staff Christmas party the pastoral staff was called to the front row for the all-staff picture. This took place the four years I was on staff, it was a long-held tradition, and it still happened at the Christmas party immediately after the Women’s Report.
Admittedly, this is a problem with power dynamics in general, as I once witnessed a pastor tell a non-pastoral male staff member to move out of the pastors’ row as staff were lining up for the picture. Who is pictured and where people are placed in the picture communicates value.
Administrative Assistants (almost all female) were expected to cover the front desk when the receptionist was out of the office. One day, my husband (a seminary student) was working alongside me, and a male staff member asked,
“Do we have seminary students covering the desk now?” As though working the desk was beneath a male seminarian but suitable for a woman.
Another male staff member came to my office space and saw a collection of Bible commentaries on the bookshelf, and he asked me if those were my husband’s books. My husband doesn’t have office space here.
One female staff member inherited a very nice desk chair from her predecessor. However, when the North Campus got a new lead pastor the Director of HR asked this female staff member to give that pastor her chair and for her to use another office chair that was not as nice.
Female staff were generally placed in dead-end roles with no opportunity for growth or development. The culture of staff development was oriented toward raising up pastors, and since they believe women can’t be pastors, that meant women were often lost in the shuffle.
Most women were hired as “administrative assistants”, while most men were hired as “ministry assistants”. In fact, most of the ministry assistant positions were reserved for seminary students, and Bethlehem’s seminary only admits men into their MDiv program.
It was frequently assumed that administrators (women) were not career-oriented, that the administrative jobs were short term until the women wound up getting married or having children. (It’s not wrong if women want to quit when they get married or have children,
but it is wrong for the institution to build a culture based on the assumption that this is what will happen.) For example, pay rates for admin assistants and the lack of paid maternity leave made it difficult for them to stay long term.
These things combined to produce an abundance of turnover for female employees, making it unlikely that they’d be honored for the longevity of their service (a practice done commonly at BBC) or that they would have the opportunity to shape the office culture in a meaningful way.
Female staff being mistreated by the HR director was another aspect of staff culture. Additionally, I know of several instances where female staff were bullied by other staff and didn’t receive appropriate support and protection from their supervising pastor or HR.
In a conversation with the HR Director about adjusting my title and pay after receiving new and increased responsibilities, one of the reasons she gave for not wanting to make the change was that I was just going to leave staff in a year when my husband graduated from seminary.
I had never communicated that I would be leaving when my husband graduated, and even if I had, this was not a valid reason to withhold the title and pay that my work warranted.
When my title finally changed from admin assistant to ministry assistant, I didn’t have the official responsibility of covering the front desk. But when I brought this up to the HR Director she said, ”If you don’t want to cover the front desk, I’ll just take your title away.”
There were many other themes and stories in the report. These are just a few. At the conclusion of the report, the group of female staff reporting to the elders brought recommendations. They included further conversation to facilitate deep and thorough discussion on each campus.
The hope was to initiate dialogue between women and men over questions like, “Where are we as a church?” “How did we get to this place?” and “What is our philosophy of life and ministry together as men and women?” I’m not sure whether any such progress has been made.
And more than that, there continues to be no public acknowledgement of this report to the congregation or repentance for what it contains.

In my next post I plan to share more about the difficult process of commissioning, reporting, and following up on this content.

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More from @StephDenzer

15 Sep
The interim lead pastor for Bethlehem’s downtown campus brought Jen Wilkin in to share about growing in practical complementarity in March 2018. One of the things she shared was that The Village commissioned a report detailing the experience of women on staff at the church.
The goal was to understand what it was like for them and how the church needed to change. The BBC elders then commissioned a similar report, which was shared with all the elders in June 2018 by a subcommittee of the women from each campus involved in the report.
Not all the women who collected or provided feedback were at this meeting. The all-elder chairman sent the only follow-up communication to all the participants. He thanked us, extolled God’s kindness for this group of “remarkable and gifted women” who delivered this report,
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