I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a fellow seminary student. Actually, she had graduated and was awaiting a call. She had her name given to one nearby congregation. She told me that they declined to interview her because, as she related it, "they had a woman once and it didn't work out, so we aren't interested in interviewing another woman."
If you think that's a justifiable statement, consider this one: "We had a male pastor once, and it didn't work out, so I guess we won't have a male pastor again."
I remember visiting with an older woman in the neighborhood when I first moved here. She was tangentially connected with our congregation (which is to say, not very). She started talking about the changes in the community in the past few years, particularly with regard to race and ethnic background, and not in a positive way. She must have sensed some dismay on my part, because she noted: "I didn't used to be prejudiced, but I got my purse snatched by a black man once, and now I don't trust them."
I sympathized with her situation, understood exactly how she felt, until I applied the same rule as above, and changed the sentence to: "I got my purse stolen by a white man once, and now I don't trust them." Hmmmm. Doesn't quite work the same, does it?
Fairly or unfairly, women and minorities are often looked upon as representatives of their gender or their race, at least in certain areas. So, Hillary Clinton is "the woman" candidate, and Barack Obama is "the African American" candidate. In some areas, there is the expectation that people will vote for them or WON'T vote for them simply on the basis of their gender or their race, as if their policies or their personal story or their particular strengths or particular weaknesses don't matter.
This is the politics of identity, and if it sometimes seems to be a good card to play (You have to support the woman candidate, or you have to support the African-American), it is a double-edged sword. While I celebrate how far women of accomplishment have come, I don't have to agree with the policies of every woman in public service.
There is the possibility that in November of 2008, we will make history. Perhaps we will elect the first woman president; perhaps we will elect the first African American President.
As for me, I'm waiting for the day when we will all be judged by the content of our character (however imperfect or flawed), when I won't be the "lady preacher" but simply the pastor, when my failures won't reflect on every other woman who attempts to come after me, when "my purse was stolen by a black man and now I don't trust them" will be seen for the absurdity it is.