Let’s be honest about how many people in church feel strains of imposter syndrome, those feelings of doubt and inadequacy that we push down deep into our souls because all we’ve ever heard about that in church is some variation of “if your faith is strong enough, you should never feel this way.” With regards to the workplace, imposter syndrome can speak to the ways women will “decrease” themselves so as not to make the men in the workplace feel uncomfortable. It is easy to say ‘bump a bunch of that’ until you consider how pay increases get tied to the level of comfort “higher ups” feel when they are around you.
If women are considered to be less competent in the workplace simply because they are women, how does this work in the church? This type of competence bias reaches into the house of the Lord too. Look at how church is primarily setup. For many of our Christian denominations, church is a systematic order of religious expression that is mostly attended by women, but it is mostly men making the decisions, leading the committees that control the money, and exercising the speaking gifts—preaching and teaching.
And for Black women, there is another strain of imposter syndrome to contend with, and those are the constant reminders of our less-than-dom that we unfortunately internalize. Those feelings of “I’m not good enough.” I only have a seat at this table because I am lucky, not because I am competent. The constant questioning if we are slim enough, acceptable enough, is my hair non-threatening enough is literally killing us. Disclaimer: I’m certain Latina women, Native women, white women, Asian women, trans women, queer women, and all matter of women I may have unintentionally not called the roll for experience forms of this too. But what the church does that is pure evil, is using God to co-sign the foolishness that women should be humble, subservient, and second-class to men’s first class.
I was recently asked about a belief a friend learned in church, that believers are called to be as meek and as lowly as Jesus was considered to be—and to operate in a posture of humility that makes feminism out of the question. Too many have suffered under theologies that tell them that if they are not humble, then they are not holy. That if a woman speaks her mind, then she is out of God’s order. That if a woman is saved, that she must have a low opinion of herself. Nope, nope, and nope. First of all, this feeds into the notion that all women think the same, feel the same, and are made happy by the same things and that simply is not the case. It is more an attempt by men (often with female accomplices) to force women to silence themselves so their own insecurities aren’t revealed or agendas are questioned. The only man threatened by a loud woman is an insecure one, one who is unsure of his own masculinity, the one who defines his masculinity by conquering femininity.
Here’s what’s interesting to me about those who think conquering femininity is God’s order: what about Jesus? The Jesus that we read about in the Gospels and see portrayed in culturally inaccurate movies is usually effeminate. He hugs men. He loves and plays with children. He is in touch with his feelings. Isn’t it interesting that men who claim to be disciples of Jesus…apostles of Jesus…spokespersons for Jesus…would probably call any man that acts as Jesus is described to have acted a punk?
Humility itself is often confused with being a punk, with letting people walk all over you. The biblical notion of humility is strength under control. Strength under control is when you can use your power to hurt somebody, but your self-control game is tight as hell. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
When Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:23), he is exhibiting humility in a lot of ways. Right off he is expressing care and concern for someone who is torturing him. Crucifixion was set up to be as painful as possible…we get the word “excruciating” from crucifixion. And Jesus is asking God to forgive them for it. Let that resonate for a few seconds. But there is another aspect at work here…and it is these small things that convince me that Jesus was more than human…when Jesus resurrected, he did not clap back on the soldiers who crucified him. And y’all know that if that had been any one of us, the first stop after the tomb would have been the man with the hammer’s house. Could any of us have been able to resist the urge to go see every soldier who swung a hammer, held a nail, balled a fist, swung a whip, or fashioned a crown out of thorns two seconds out of the tomb? I would have paid them all a visit blasting Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now.” But Jesus did not do that. That my beloveds, is strength under control. Jesus did not shrink himself. He did not act mildly or meekly. He simply completed the mission he believed God assigned to him.
Imposter syndrome often is the result of not liking one’s self very much. This can be the often be the result of trauma, abuse, ignorance, neglect, hate, shame…so many life events can lead us to a place where we don’t love ourselves. Yet, loving ourselves is part of the faith journey. When Jesus says, “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” (Matthew 22:39) don’t slide past that as you love yourself part because you can’t pour from an empty cup. And that goes for laity AND clergy. Loving ourselves is a must in this contentious political climate for our own well-being. If we’re already operating at a love deficit, we’re probably more likely to contort into smaller versions of ourselves because somebody suggested that was a holy way to be. Love is resistance. Like Baby Suggs remind you of that in this scene from the film, “Beloved.”