When Christians are Impostors

Immigration statistics prove that the USA is becoming more and more diverse. One of the most notable sectors of growth is among Mexican Americans. Some churches are trying to “reach” Mexican Americans for Christ. I applaud their intentions.  Some of those who have been (successfully) “reached” don’t feel welcome because they feel like they’ve shown up to someone else’s party. Their Mexican American faith and their Mexican American culture don’t fit in an Anglo faith and Anglo culture. Anglos, sadly, often don’t even understand the issues.

            How sad to feel like an impostor at church where the Beloved Life is to be embodied.

            Africa is just a few miles from Europe, 7.7 miles at the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain to Morocco) and about 80 miles from Tunisia to Sicily. But the European has created the Story of the African, and that Story creates the image and stereotype and falsehood of the slave and the savage African and the Dark Continent and the need to colonize and educate the African. Think of Joseph Conrad and his haunting The Heart of Darkness. Europe’s telling of the Story of Africa made Africa the “other,” an otherness that can only be overcome through generations learning a different Story. That Story, we need to remember in repentance, makes African and African American followers of Jesus feel like impostors in the Western Church. That Story needs deserves to be retold and retold, and Westerners need to read it and absorb it and relearn the Story of Africa, but this time the Story needs to be written by the African. This has been happening and it is happening – but are we Westerners reading it?

            How sad for the African to be made an impostor by the Story we tell.

            Christian educational institutions have worked hard, partly through affirmative action programs and partly through cultivation and partly through solid convictions, to add to administrations and faculties and staffs both persons of color and women. I applaud their intentions. Some of those who have earned such vocations don’t feel welcome because they feel like impostors.

            How sad to feel like an impostor at a Christian school.

            Some churches permit and are committed to ordaining women into leadership positions. Some, and I could give you some names, have worked their entire lives to include women in ministry. Women have attended seminary, attained their degrees, and achieved a call from churches. Some of these women, perhaps most, know the backside of this opportunity: some folks in the church don’t like it when women are gifted to lead. Many women pastors and church leaders will never escape feeling like an impostor because of how those who say they are followers of Jesus have treated them – because they are women.

            How sad to feel like an impostor as a pastor because you are a woman.

            The Impostor Syndrome, I suggest to you, emerges out of a system and a history – a system that embodies the devaluing of people and a history of devaluation. The Christian Church, not to mention other traditionalist cultures, has struggled to break free from stereotypes about women. For years a woman’s place was in the home and not in the pulpit and not in leadership. St. Augustine believed women were human, but he didn’t think women “are” the image of God. He split hairs on this one by teaching that while a woman bears the image of God, he did not believe a woman, alone, is the image of God. But a man is the image of God. A woman can become the image of God by marriage to a man. Well, we could keep going on this one and need not … the point is made. The Church laid the groundwork for the Impostor Syndrome for women with such teachings. So much so that a great woman writer, Dorothy Sayers, gave a public address titled “Are Women Human?”[iv] The issue for me is why such questions are even asked. The answer is systemic. Women have been nurtured into a world that has systemically treated them as inferior to men. Not always, not everywhere, but often enough to create an Impostor Syndrome for women.

            How sad that this occurs in the church!

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