“Dear Elle”: 91-Year-Old on Her Life as a Church Employee
14 May 2018 |
Thank you for writing “The Day My Church Broke My Heart.” I have read it with interest. Perhaps you would like to hear my story along these lines.
Since I am 91 now, I don’t claim to remember all the details exactly right. But I will do my best to be as accurate as possible.
In the 1950s there were multiple salary schedules depending on your married or unmarried status, whether you were male or female and whether or not you had children. I was business manager and teacher at one of our small academies. At first I was a married woman so my salary was on the lowest level. Then my husband left me, and I was a single woman with dependent children. Since I was a woman my salary was less than a man on the faculty who had a wife who made good wages working outside of the denomination, and they had no children. True, I did get child support from my husband, but it was very low. In fact, the rule was to deduct my child support from my wages, but they chose to disregard that rule.
Later, I went back to school, finished my degree and worked at another academy. My wages were based on the “Single, with children” rate, and again they said the policy was to deduct my child support. I told them the other conference didn’t do it, and they readily agreed to not abide by that rule.
The inequalities and unfairness of the Adventist denomination through the years have been difficult to accept, but by God’s grace, I succeeded in maintaining a positive attitude most of the time. To forgive is hard, but the Holy Spirit has helped me. I think about how much the Lord has forgiven me and how He suffered in order to do that, so by His help I was able to accept the unfairness (most of the time).
Later, at a teacher’s convention, the small group I chose to attend, discussed the inequalities of remuneration of women compared to men. I think there were about 20-25 women there, and it was led by a woman from the college. They were given freedom to express their disappointment, resentment, anger, and regrets over the unfairness of the denomination. At the end, they left with bitter feelings still in their hearts. I was appalled that the leader didn’t bring them to a better closure. I expressed to her my concern that in their bitterness they might leave the church, and some did.
You probably heard of Merikay Silver who sued a church entity over the unfair wage policy. She won, and as a result I received $1,300 back pay as partial remuneration for past discrepancies.
Another time I was a delegate to the conference constituency meeting where the big discussion was whether to ordain women elders. One of the pastors went up and down the aisle telling the men to vote no. And the vote was negative. The pastor sitting next to me gloated about it. He also was very rude to me on the phone for absolutely no reason when I served as business manager for the academy in his district. The Lord knows these things and He has His own way and time to deal with these individuals.
In another conference, a junior academy needed a principal. I had a friend who was a friend of the school board chairperson. She asked if I knew anybody they could contact for the job. I gave all the names I could think of. Then, one day they asked me to consider it. That was a considerable shock to me because I had not even thought of it as being a possibility. At that time I was a third grade teacher (my favorite job). No woman had ever been principal of a ten-grade Adventist school before in our union conference. After a week of careful thought, I decided I would apply. I followed all the correct procedures and my name was sent to the Personnel Committee from the conference office. The committee voted for me to be principal. However, on Friday afternoon I received a phone call from the Educational Superintendent, informing me he was going to ask them to reconsider.
He gave all his reasons as to why I didn’t have the proper experience to do the job. He said I wouldn’t know finances as well as the other principals. I told him I had had previous experience in being a business manager, my major in college was business education, and that I probably knew more about finances than any of his male principals. Then he said I didn’t have any experience in making decisions on that level. I told him I worked for my husband who was principal of a junior academy and was very much involved in the decision making. One after another of his objections I met in a firm but polite way. In the end he said, “Well, Eloise, that puts you in a unique position.”
The Personnel Committee met Saturday night and voted me to be principal regardless of the objections from the Educational Department. After my first board meeting, I overheard the Associate Superintendent say to a board member: “You did the right thing to put her in as principal.” It pleased me greatly to hear him say that. Afterwards, women principals appeared in a number of our academies in that union, and I believe there is no question in North America now as to whether or not women can do a good job as principal.
I should make it clear that not all men are like this. I have worked with many who were very pleasant and treated me with respect.
It isn’t worth losing our eternal salvation over the mistakes and faults of our denomination. It isn’t easy to forgive and have a smiling face, but life is more pleasant when you aren’t gloomy over the injustice. This quotation helps me greatly when I have been unfairly treated for no reason.
“God is the eternal guardian of right. He has a tender care for the beings whom He has so loved as to give His dearest Beloved to save. He will deal with every wrong-doer.” ED 257
Eloise Mattison Bennett