If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times- titles aren’t important. Most of the time the people who are making this statement either don’t have a title or benefit from entitlements that come from being white, male, or older. Since I am none of those things, my titles (I happen to have two) are important particularly in my vocation.
Stripping women of their titles perpetuates a gender bias that says they aren’t really leaders in the household of faith and we don’t have to recognize their credentials.
As a young(ish), fairly attractive, black woman in ministry, my titles have become a source of confusion and sometimes offense for many. I have huge natural hair, a New York accent, and I get around in this world on stilettos. I don’t look like the stereotypical minister. Many times when I meet the families of young couples getting married, they are in utter disbelief that I am the officiant. Once as I was standing graveside about to commit the body of a member I'd just eulogized, I overheard a funeral director say “aww bless her heart” when he learned I was officiating. I can't tell you how many times I've been called sweetie or young lady (despite being middle-aged). These types of incidents are all the more reason why I regularly use my titles.
So why is it so hard to get other people to use them? Perhaps it's because I'm seen as relatable and approachable. My appearance makes me everyone's girlfriend in their minds. But God did not call me to use my congregation as a social club, God called me serve and yes, to provide leadership. That is what I'm committed to. The truth is that almost all of my closest friends are themselves clergy or people who knew me way back when. That's because I’ve had to sacrifice so much to answer the call of God on my life and unless you've walked this way (or walked with me), you can't begin to understand my wounds or know me well enough to be on a first name basis.
In recent months this has become a big deal. Why? Because I have consistently witnessed the saints give men titles they have not earned while stripping women of all their titles and reducing them to a first name basis in their professional settings. Some have taken it upon themselves to call me ‘Natasha’ while others aim for ‘Sister Gadson’ or ‘Mrs. Gadson’ but not Reverend, despite the fact that my senior pastor almost always calls me Rev or Dr. Gadson. And I quickly correct it. I’ve also recently made the decision to sign all of my work-related emails ‘Dr. Gadson’ because I have earned the privilege.
Disregarding the titles of female clergy not only disrespects the years of preparation, training, education, and experience through which we labored, but it also dishonors the women on whose shoulders we stand, who preached without being formally recognized, and who fought for our right to full ordination. Ignoring the gender bias that makes it okay to address women clergy so informally when that is not our culture is just as bad as ignoring the micro-aggressions all people of color experience that are rooted in racism.
I’ve gotten to the place where I am no longer willing to downplay or apologize for my titles. God graced me with certain credentials for a purpose, so that I can be a blessing to the body of Christ. I choose to walk in the fullness of what he has allowed me to accomplish.