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,
and explained that there would be collaboration on how to move forward in light of these findings.

The report shed light on a culture of neglect and misogyny, so ‘thank you’ did not seem like a fitting response. There were no apologies, repentance, or admittance of wrongs done.
The tone in the email response was thankfulness and excitement when it should have been one of lament and contrition. There was no organized meeting regarding the downtown campus report until over 10 months later.
However, the lead downtown pastor held the downtown female staff back after one staff meeting to ask which one of us shared about a problem with him in the report. This directly violated the protocol that was agreed upon when women signed up to share their experience.
He said that whoever had a problem with him should have shared it with him directly. This ignored the problem of power dynamics between pastors/members and supervisors/employees and violated the trust required for women in this culture to share about their experience freely.
One of the downtown pastors would often joke about the report’s content by downplaying the importance of pastors at the church and their role in relation to the other staff and members of the church. For instance, he would sarcastically announce “A pastor is now present”
in order to communicate that a pastor doesn’t need to be present for something to validate it. However, he was missing the fact that in practice the pastors were the most valued people at the church, and it seemed cruel to make a joke out of what was shared in the report.
10 months after the women’s report was submitted to all the elders, I followed up with the female staff member who headed up the downtown portion of the report to ask if we were ever going to have a follow up meeting with the downtown pastors to discuss the report.
By this time, the downtown pastors' response, or lack thereof, communicated that the women’s survey was not being taken seriously, that it was not urgent, and collaboration was not going to happen. Nevertheless, we requested a meeting with them to discuss the report again.
The assumption was that not all the pastors would be able to make time for it, or waiting for them to do so would significantly push back the meeting that was already months overdue. It was decided that we should choose a handful of pastors based largely on which female staff
were participating in the meeting and who their supervising pastors were. Again, this communicated the discouraging reality that our efforts in the report and what was shared in the report were of secondary importance to whatever else the pastors had going on at the time.
There were two follow up meetings. Not all the pastors who were invited came to both meetings, and some who attended left before the conclusion of the meetings. The meetings were framed as times to discuss the report and what sorts of things we could do to improve the situation.
This approach glossed over at least two things: (1) There was still no repentance or apology or acknowledgement of wrong done and harm caused, which meant that true reconciliation and progress were impossible; and
(2) There were numerous concrete action steps laid out in the report itself that had yet to be adopted, and no explanation was given for this.

The meetings were hard.
I remember explaining how painful it was that there had yet to be an apology for the wrongs revealed in the women’s report. I was still met with silence. In what little dialogue that took place in those two meetings, there was still no admittance of wrong done or repentance.
Even my supervising pastor was completely silent in these meetings. Overall, he had been supportive of the things I had shared about BBC staff culture in private, but in public, in these meetings, he said nothing.
My final meeting regarding the women’s report was with the lead pastor for preaching and vision. As I shared about the women’s report with a friend who was close to him, she said she thought he needed to hear about these things, so she set up a time for us to meet.
In the meeting, he agreed with my concerns, was supportive, and said the pastors need to do better in these areas. He said that he was aware of other things that had happened to other women on staff as well that were problematic and needed addressing.
And he said that when he became the downtown lead pastor, he would work to address them. However, I received no follow up and don’t know whether anything was actually done in light of that meeting with respect to the women’s report to this day.
After leaving BBC staff, I heard from friends that were still on staff that a couple of the suggestions from the report were eventually adopted, including picturing all staff on the website (not just pastoral staff) and offering paid maternity leave.
These changes were communicated generically with no reference to the Women’s Report as the impetus and no apology for how wrong and painful these former situations were. To my knowledge, the congregation has no awareness of this report and no knowledge of its findings.
Some pastors have left BBC & some have shared publicly & specifically about how they were mistreated, but I would love to see similarly public & specific confessions of their wrongdoing, silence, & complicity that harmed others while they were in positions of power at the church.

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More from @StephDenzer

14 Sep
🧵 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.
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