A few years ago, my friend was passed over for a seminary position. She was eminently qualified for the position, so I was surprised when a less qualified person stepped into the job.
I did a bit of research (actually, snooping would be a better term in this case), asking anyone I knew who was connected to the committee why she was passed over. Come to find out, it was because she published too much. I was stunned. How could an institution, in which people would be expected and rewarded to publish, not hire someone because she published too much?
Then I found out that the problem was not exactly that she published. It was what she published. She was progressive, and the institution was afraid that they would come under attack from conservatives for hiring her, so they chose the less qualified, less controversial figure for the position. Would this stop the institution from hiring a conservative? I don’t know, but either way, I’m saddened by this turn of events. If a candidate hasn’t weighed in with a clear opinion about the most important issues of our church, then that seems to be the reason to disqualify them from a position, not because they have.
When a friend in the publishing noticed that progressive Christians were no longer being interviewed by the media, I asked him why that was. He acutely observed, “We’ve gotten gun-shy. We’re too worried that we’ll come off too Jesus-y and we’ll be closely aligned with the Religious Right, or we’re worried that we’ll be attacked, so we remain on the defense.”
Unfortunately, I know what it’s like to have my job come under fire for being honest about my opinions of divisive issues. It’s scary. I’m basically a nice person. I’m conflict-averse. I’m a peacemaker by nature. Plus, I’m not the most courageous person in the world to begin with, so when I think about my family losing that paycheck or about never getting a job again, I’m not above a serious, pit-soaking panic.
I know what it’s like to open an email and find someone calling me “a whore of Satan.” I’ve had ominous phone calls to our house with the greeting “we wouldn’t want your child to get hurt.” I’ve read scathing blog posts about my writing and I’ve had my theological views viciously attacked by fellow Presbyterian pastors–men who made a vow before a congregation and before God to be a “friend in ministry” to me. I’ve had cyber stalkers–men who email me, anonymously criticizing every blog post, every Tweet, every post, and (sometimes it feels like) every move I make. I’ll be the first to admit that none of it is a good time.
That said, I’ve been around too many tables lately where progressives are concerned about what the conservative media machine might do to them. It’s not fun, but the playground is not going to be safe unless we start standing up to the bullies. Am I talking about being vicious back? Am I talking about using smear tactics? Am I talking about trying to block conservatives for positions or attempting to destroy careers? Of course not.
But I am talking about not allowing anyone to take our voice from us. No one has control over his or her career. Yes, we might lose a job opportunity because of what we believe, but it’s simply exhausting trying to figure out the political implications of what we say. And the more we try to act as if our careers are a giant chess game where our moves are based on trying to predict the moves of our opponent, then the more we’re going to lose in the long run. There are times in our work where we just need to speak before we think.