So, yesterday was fun. Over 80 comments on “Over 45? Texas UMC doesn’t want you in Ordained Ministry.” And today, my good friend Josh Hale, who sits on their BOM’s executive committee, posted a clarification of the reasoning. It is a good read, check it out and it helps us give more context to the policy so that we can now more firmly make opinions about it.
However, I’m not satisfied that such a policy is not–in fact–ageist in effect even if not in intent.
To recap, the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has released a proposed “minimum standards for entering candidates for ministry” which outlines what are the bare minimum requirements for people to be considered for clergy work. Here’s the PDF and the scanned image is below (click to make it readable). I am required by the commenters to repeat it is “proposed” and “in draft form.”
Let’s look at the specific section again:
It says at the bottom “Candidates over age 45 should be encouraged to pursue other expressions of ministry” etc etc. Hale says that part of the reasoning for singling out age categories is that not everyone is on an equal path:
[J]ust as psychological, medical, educational, theological, and vocational differences necessitate instruction about how Boards of Ordained Ministry approach specific issues, age does play a role. Rising pension and health care costs play a role. Rising costs in university and seminary education plays a role. Geographic relocation plays a role—my conference has no university Senate approved theological schools in the bounds of the conference. None. If you think these issues don’t play a role, or they shouldn’t, then you live in a fantasy land. We have real-world constraints on the way we do ministry and church that require real-world solutions. This isn’t a gate through which everyone must pass, but a concern that does need a conversation and maybe, yes, even encouragement to consider a different route.
So to the Texas Annual Conference BOM, real-world concerns necessitate checking on the candidate to make sure they’ve done their due diligence. And I agree completely, each candidate comes with demographic challenges.
But the question is: why codify this one as policy?
A commenter “Cheri” on the United Methodist Reporter’s link on Facebook asked this question:
To get a clear picture of the effect of this proposal…substitute the words “Candidates who are African-American” or “Candidates who are female” for every “Candidates over age *” on the spreadsheet. This is an issue of discrimination, not pensions and guaranteed appointments.
I thought I would help out the Texas BOM in their discernment and do exactly what Cheri suggested. I’ve written up helpful new policies for the Texas Annual Conference of the UMC to address these different demographics:
- Candidates who are women should be encouraged to pursue other expressions of ministry. They need to show their due diligence that they are prepared for people leaving their church when they first arrive, that telemarketers will ask to speak to the “real” pastor, that their apparel will be critiqued as much as their sermons, and that they will not likely be considered for the largest churches. They need to show they have thought through this in ways that men do not.
- Candidates who are ethnic minorities should be encouraged to pursue other expressions of ministry. They need to show their due diligence that they are prepared for racist comments by parishioners (intentional or unintentional), that their church metrics may not add up due to immigrants not wanting to “join” a church on paper, and that they will be tokenized and expected to speak on behalf of their entire race. They need to show they have thought through this in ways that Anglos do not.
- Candidates who are handicapped should be encouraged to pursue other expressions of ministry. They need to show their due diligence that they are prepared for parsonages that they can’t live in, for people to question their ability to visit them in the hospital or at home, and for higher medical bills. They need to show they have thought through this in ways that not-differently-abled (totally not a PC term) do not.
- Candidates who are progressive should be encouraged to pursue other expressions of ministry. They need to show their due diligence that they are prepared for writing “extra” papers each year for the BOM clarifying their not-cookie-cutter-theology, to be judged based on the HomoLiberal school they went to (*cough*Boston U*cough*), and to not be sent to the largest churches due to a theological mismatch. They need to show they have thought through this in ways that Traditionalists do not. Sorry, there’s a whole lot of me in that paragraph.
Perhaps in the same vein as the country song “Accidentally Racist” which turns out to be racist (made fun of by Stephen Colbert here in the brilliant “Oopsy Daisy Homophobe“), the Texas Annual Conference UMC is trying to deal with an issue (clergy age stratification) in a way that accidentally is ageist.
When you codify a particular demographic as needing to show due diligence in ways that other demographics do not, then your policy is…well, accidentally discriminatory. In my opinion.