There is a thought-provoking blog post by Lara Ortberg Turner about the “role” of pastor’s wives, Let Pastor’s Wives Do Their Own Thing, in reaction to the new TLC reality TV show Sisterhood, about wives of mega-church pastors in Atlanta, who call themselves “First Ladies.”
In the trailer, one of the First Ladies says, “When you’re married to a pastor, you’re held to a higher standard.” And yet, Turner proffers, “It is an antiquated and strange notion to view a woman as an extension of her husband’s occupation. Yet for some reason, we insist on doing this with pastor’s wives.”
Turner believes “it is harmful when a woman’s identity gets subsumed by her husband’s.” While I agree with that statement, I believe there is some confusion about where that line is where you move from supporting your spouse to losing your own identity. The whole notion of “two becoming one” in marriage is about both husband and wife investing their respective identities in order to become a new thing, together.
I am a pastor’s wife. And it is a strange time to be one.
Women, in general, find ourselves at a very “progressive” moment in our North American history where, even if we don’t have the standards of equality we might hope for, we can at least use our big, loud voice to draw attention to it. We are no longer the subservient ladies who let the men make all the decisions while we crochet baby blankets and hold tea parties – unless we want to, holla!
In the preferred picture of the pastor’s wife of years past, she made finger sandwiches at the functions and wordlessly stood by her husband and his ministry efforts. OR there was the pastor’s wife who went against the grain. Loud and belligerent, she would rail against the stereotype (creating her own in the process) and quite likely would spend more time talking about what she’s NOT than demonstrating what she wished people would believe her to be.
Despite our advancements, we have been guilty of corralling pastor’s wives into these two categories. And by we, I also mean pastor’s wives themselves.
I want to suggest an exploration of a third way, where a woman is neither pressured nor reluctant to support her husband, where his title of pastor is of little importance in their relationship/her identity, but her title of wife is of great importance.
No doubt, the conspicuousness is the strain, just as it might be for other wives who have to “share” their husbands because of their public positions (e.g. doctors, politicians). And so the pastor’s wife may find herself in a fishbowl. This is the thing that pastor’s wives may come to either exploit or resent.
The third way suggests that the pastor’s wife accept the reality of this byproduct of her husband’s position and, on that platform, offer a message that belongs to every single wife: love, honour and respect your husband.