Dear Gloria Steinem: On Being a Young Woman in the Church

I am an Episcopal priest. I’m married to an Episcopal priest. I see politics as […]

Sarah Condon / 2.11.16

I am an Episcopal priest. I’m married to an Episcopal priest. I see politics as a “please don’t show me yours because I’m not going to show you mine” scenario. You want to talk about grace? I’m all ears. You want to talk about debt reduction? Talk to someone who went to Business School Yale. Not Divinity School. I am not here to advocate for a particular candidate.

That said, let’s talk about Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton. Or more specifically, let’s talk about Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright. Ladies, you don’t have to go home, but you have to stop trash-talking young women.

I cannot begin to express the level of frustration I felt with Ms. Steinem when she suggested to Bill Maher that young women were backing Bernie Sanders because they wanted to spend time with young men. Gross. Apparently, even feminists can be patronizing to young women now.

As long as we’re on the subject, why don’t we let Madeleine Albright tell us where the cow ate the cabbage:

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Super. So, there’s Hitler, King Herod, and “bad feminists.” I’ll grab a latte at Starbucks and type H-E-L-L into Googlemaps. Because it looks like I’m bound for the fires of damnation.

The backlash from their comments has been unprecedented. It may have even cost Hillary New Hampshire. And I am convinced that there is more to this story than loads of young women preferring Bernie to Hillary: a voice has been put to an issue long festering. Young women are often treated like they are a disappointment to feminism.

Ms. Steinem and Ms. Albright’s remarks hit me particularly hard as a young clergywoman. I seldom, if ever, feel as though I am “enough” for the previous generation of women in the profession. I have been in those rooms where women a generation or two older have looked to me to answer for my generation’s shortcomings. They tell me that the church is not what they thought it should or could be, and that my generation of clergywomen have been apathetic or “worried about the wrong things.”

Part of me understands their frustration. They had a vision for what they thought feminine power should look like in the church and political arenas. And from their vantage point, my generation has fallen short.

Leslie Knop

But Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright have pushed the Christian charity right out of me. I’m not listening to that noise anymore. So here are a few things that are no longer up for judgment:

Stop chastising young women for their lack of ambition. Not all of us are interested in pastoring a big church. Personally, I am interested in being a priest and caring for two small children. As long as I’m letting the cat out of the bag, there are days I forget I am ordained altogether. Because you know, I’m busy making dinner, doing the laundry, and bathing babies. And yet, somehow, amazingly enough, I still find great joy and purpose in such moments. Crazy, right?

Stop telling me I have to choose between being a clergy spouse and being clergy. They are both incredible vocations. I’m lucky I get to do both of them. But if your opinion is that I am a priest only, feel free to keep it to yourself.

tina fet motherhoodStop insisting that we do not care about the “right” things. I am sick of being shamed for not advocating for “inclusive language” in worship. I do not like referring to God in the feminine. I have my reasons, and besides, it’s my call to make. If you want to refer to God in the feminine, go right ahead. That’s your decision.

I want to be very clear: I am grateful for the women who have come before me, politically and religiously. I was raised to be a feminist. But the brand of feminism I was raised with meant that I was able to have choices that previous generations of women did not have. Feminism has never meant that previous generations of women now get to make my decisions for me.

For my first few years of ministry, I had a mentor named Rhoda Montgomery. She encouraged me to be a mother to my children without considering the “impact” on the church. She told me I didn’t have to go back to work weeks after I had given birth. And when I finally did go back to work, she was a cheerleader for me all the way. Last year I lost her to cancer. I’m still mad about it.

She ran a big church and never had children herself. Yet she was an incredibly gracious and empathetic mentor to someone with different life circumstances. I believe she understood the importance of supporting the choices of the next generation of clergywomen. Rhoda never judged or tried to prescribe my decisions, she only celebrated that I had them. I pray that Rhoda was not an anomaly. But when I need a clergywoman to talk to about my path, when I need a gracious counselor, I suddenly realize how short that list of women really is. And I miss Rhoda even more.

Based on what I’ve experienced in the church world, and what we have seen from Ms. Steinem and Ms. Albright, there are now certain legalisms of shame being placed anew on young women. We continue to hold a narrow definition of what women should be doing. It has simply moved out of the home and into the workplace. We should be running things. We should “have it all.” We should vote for the most righteously female candidate. To use a beloved AA-ism, we are “shoulding” all over one another, exchanging old human expectations for new ones.

Instead, in the midst of such liminality, I’m clinging to the Gospel.

MaryI cannot help but think of Mary and her controversial jar of ointment. In John’s Gospel, we hear that Mary has anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, and as a result, Judas Iscariot has tried to throw the proverbial book at her. He proclaims that they could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. Mary should have made better use of their resources. Mary should have kept her eyes fixed on progress and fixing things, at least on Judas’ terms. On paper, Mary looks wasteful and Judas heroic. Of course, we know that Mary was actually anointing Jesus for the cross, and Judas was on the verge of becoming a traitor.

With that in mind, here goes nothing:


Dear Ms. Steinem,

We do not know where God is at work in the lives of others. Take a life lesson from my dear Rhoda: Compassion, Empathy, and Joy rule the day. Your judgment of young women will accomplish nothing but alienation. And that’s too bad because we could really use your support.

Off to change a diaper,


P.S. Please tell Ms. Albright she is not in charge of hell.