Editor's Note: This article is one in an occasional series called "All About the Benjamins," running this fall on Fidelia's Sisters. As many congregations and organizations are running stewardship campaigns and lining up budgets for 2012, we'll be taking a look at the sometimes-taboo topic of money, and the role it plays in our ministries.
I held the paper with disdain. Presbyterians had an annual report that came out, detailing the salaries of every pastor in the area. My spirit plummeted when I saw the figures. I noticed how the guy that just graduated from seminary was making 20K more than I was, even though I had five years of experience. I realized how, across the board, women were paid less than men.
When it comes to salaries, women clergy are hit with a double whammy. On top of the regular socialization that most women face—you know, the encouragements to “play nice” and not make a big deal about our pay or inequitable treatment—we’re also smacked with a massive dose of spiritual guilt.
Whenever our discomfort about pay comes up, we’re told, “You really didn’t go into the ministry for the money, did you?” People question our personal commitment to our calling or they wonder why we don’t have a servant’s heart. We’re told that we should be more like Jesus, Paul, or Shane Claiborne.
Meanwhile, as young clergywomen, many of us face difficulties that generations before us didn’t. With the increase in education costs, we have student loan debt. With the mortgage bubble, we have higher housing costs. With the economic crisis, we have salaries that are often scrutinized and cut. And, no matter how hard we try, Sallie Mae and Freddie Mac won’t take our servant’s heart or our call to ministry as payment.
So we stagger along. We use credit cards to keep up with the high expectations that our congregations and colleagues have of our appearance (you must have a good haircut, nice clothes, and decent shoes). Or we use them just to make ends meet. But we don’t talk about what’s really going on, because if people knew, then they would think that we are irresponsible or not spiritual enough.
So how can we support one another in all of this? How can we make this system better for the next generation of women? Here are a few suggestions that I have:
1) Be clear about what you need. You know why that guy straight out of seminary made more than I did? He negotiated his salary. Churches provided the lowest amount of money in their information, and I always accepted it. Instead, I should’ve taken a good look at my own financial situation and told the church what I needed.
How much money you will need is often difficult to determine. If the committee who is structuring our salary is from an older generation, they may not have any idea what sort of student loans or housing costs we have to consider. It’s so easy to sign on to a job, thinking, “God will provide.”
And it’s all too easy for churches to look at a woman pastor and think, “Her husband will provide.” Or, “She’s single. She doesn’t need as much as a man who’s supporting a family.”
But sometimes we need to rely on our negotiating skills (as well as God) to provide.
2) Do your homework. There are different ways to compare your salary. You can compare it to the other staff members, to other pastors in your area, and to the people in your congregation. Comparing your salary to the people in your congregation is harder (especially if they’re mostly retired), but it’s important. You don’t want to get all riled up about your salary if you’re getting paid three times more than most of the people in your congregation.
A healthy rule of thumb: If your church wants to keep you, then they should pay you at least 10% above the median salary for your position.
3) Support your colleagues. When I had a friend who was going to new call, she asked me to help her negotiate her salary. I called another woman in order to get the facts of how much pastors in the area were making. The three of us were able to get the information.
If you see that a woman is stepping into a job where the man before her made twice the salary for the same position, let her know about it. If a female pastor is making less than the male pastor in our governing body staff, make sure the injustice is rectified. Write parental leave policies, even if you’ll never need them. We’ve got to keep working for each other.
4) Stop the guilt. We can slip into spiritual platitudes to make us feel better about the injustice we find ourselves facing. Then we use those words on each other to induce guilt. But the truth is—God doesn’t want us to be making less than men. It’s not spiritual. It’s not just. We shouldn’t be candy-coating our own situations or heaping shame on other women who struggle with their pay.
So, what do you think? And what would you add to the suggestions?
Carol Howard Merritt is a Pastor at Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. She is the author of Reframing Hope and Tribal Church. She blogs at TribalChurch.org and the Huffington Post, and she co-hosts the God Complex Radio podcast.