“Same Song, Different Verse”
“Same Song, Different Verse” by Kelly Edmiston
On the Treatment of Women in Churches of Christ
“Same song, different verse.” This is what comes to mind for me when I hear of the conflict at Lipscomb Academy regarding John Rich and Brittany Paschall. Lipscomb Academy is a preparatory school associated with Lipscomb University, a Church of Christ institution. Maybe you have heard of John Rich. If the lyrics, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” sound familiar , then you are in luck. He’s your guy. He is half of the duo, “Big and Rich,” and lives in Nashville, TN where his two children attend Lipscomb Academy. You have likely not heard of Brittany Paschall. Paschall served as the Dean of Intercultural Development at Lipscomb Academy for the past year. She describes herself in this way, from her website, “I am a radical liberator, educator, minister, and organizer from Nashville, TN. Specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusivity practices, conflict + project management, and youth development.” Paschall is a young African American woman who is deeply committed to racial reconciliation and ministry to young people. https://btpaschall.com/
You can read all the details at the links below regarding the conflict Rich has with Paschall. Here are the highlights.
“Country musician John Rich has been railing against Lipscomb Academy’s dean of Intercultural Development, according to parents familiar with the situation. The singer, who’s one-half of the duo Big & Rich, criticized Dean Brittany Paschall and her past writings and speeches, and called for the removal of her supervisor, Lisa Bruce, due to his disagreement with school materials that discuss racism and white privilege.” https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/pith-in-the-wind/article/21112327/john-rich-is-angry-about-lipscomb-academys-dean-of-intercultural-development
Brittany speaks openly about racism and white privilege online, including her Twitter and Facebook pages and among other important matters. She has been involved in raising awareness regarding the history of slavery and lynchings in the South. She has organized rallies and spoken openly and proficiently about these matters.
“One parent tells the Scene that Rich wants to frame Paschall as a “radical liberal” for her writings about violence against black women, and for a post that she wrote on her personal website about experiencing racism in the Church of Christ.
Rich claimed that these topics are not appropriate for teenagers to discuss or read about. And therefore concluded that Paschall was not vetted properly by school administrators who hired her. Rich went on to conclude that Paschall must not be aligned with the doctrine of the school. Rich got more than what he bargained for. Not only did he get his way in the removal of Paschall from her position as Dean but he also managed to have several other administrators removed, including the Head of School. The supervisors were “transferred” to different roles at the University (with sabbatical time). I guess it’s true that money really does buy power.
Same song, different verse?
In typical “Church of Christ form,” the leaders at Lipscomb Academy succumbed to the bullying and power mongering tactics of John Rich. Rich’s bank account was a greater incentive for the Church of Christ leaders than doing the right thing, teaching the right thing, or standing up for the right thing. After-all, I am sure they reason, how could they survive without the generous fund raising parties and donations of men like John Rich and his buddies? This move was about money and power. Plain and simple. Paschall was faithfully executing the job that she was hired to do, raising awareness in a predominately white school about issues related to race. John Rich, a white rich man wasn’t comfortable with a black woman calling out white privilege so he used this very privilege to get rid of her. It is the irony of ironies that Rich’s denying the validity of white privilege is the very thing that exposes it.
Is it really, as Rich suggests, too much, or unnecessary for teenagers to deal with the history of human ownership and brutal injustices inflicted on black people in America’s all too recent history? As Christian leaders everywhere who influence young people, should we not inspire them to take this knowledge and make the future a more just place? Should this not be the responsibility of the next white generation? Should white people, young and old, not recognize privilege so that they can develop empathy and differentiation to remedy the discrepancy between what it means to grow up white in America and what it means to grow up black? Why are we not celebrating every effort to teach children to work for justice, alongside leaders of all races for a better tomorrow? Why is Brittany Paschall not a hero in this story instead of a victim?
Same Song, Different Verse?
Unfortunately this is an all too common experience in white dominated, patriarchal organizations. These organizations, both Church of Christ schools and churches, all have some version of this story. Just ask the women, black and white, why they left the Church of Christ. Or why they are staying because they feel trapped by family or financial obligations. Listen to their stories and this is what you will hear. “I was hired to do a job that they said they wanted me to. It had to do with the unique perspective of my race or my gender. But once I started doing this job, they realized that I was too much, too loud, too black or actually, too female. They wanted the dumbed-down version of me, the incomplete one, the one that looked pretty but sat still. You know, the version of me that didn’t say things too loud or too terribly honest. Because then things just get unpleasant, uncomfortable and out of bounds. Rich people get uncomfortable. White people get uncomfortable. Men get uncomfortable. We want you to work here, they say. But you have to play by the rules of the patriarchy. And playing by patriarchy’s rules looks a little different in every context but mostly these things stand true: You can’t preach, at least not from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. Oh, and when you get invited to preach at other churches, don’t talk about what you do as “preaching” because that will really upset ‘some people.’ Just call it speaking or teaching, or something less authoritative. You can’t call yourself a ‘pastor,’ instead refer to yourself as a ‘coordinator’ or a ‘director,’ but not ‘pastor.’ You definitely can’t talk about race or white privilege. People really don’t want to hear about that.”
This conflict is about more than John Rich and Brittany Paschall. This conflict is a mind-numbingly common experience for women leaders in Churches of Christ. For me, it is beginning to sound like that annoying song that gets stuck in your head for so long and plays on repeat so often and you think you’ll never get it out. I wonder to the Churches of Christ that I have grown up loving and spent the previous decade serving, will you ever switch songs? Find a different tune? A new lyric? Will you ever embrace the parts of the song that you have tried so hard to drown out because they were too high-pitched or too up-beat or because you just couldn’t find a way to make them fit. Because the song you are singing now, this low-hummed monotonous bland tune, is getting so old and worn out. Worse than “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.”
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