I’m not a reverend; I’m a civil engineer and the Executive Director of the Emmanuel Gospel Center (ECG), a faith-based, Christian non-profit that supports the work of Christian leaders in urban Boston. We work to understand how the city and the church are changing, and we get behind leaders that are doing important work. EGC serves a diverse city that is majority people of color and a diverse church that is majority women. We have always thought it is important for EGC to reflect who we serve, and we have a diverse staff and board team with strong leadership from women and people of color. Having a diverse team is important to me as a white, male executive director. I need the differing perspectives that women and people of color bring, and I’ve always valued and prioritized having a high-functioning team that reflects our community.
I came on the Girl Child Long Walk reading journey at the invitation of our friends at the Imago Dei Fund, and because as I was making it a priority to understand race issues more deeply, it seemed equally important to learn more about the experiences of women in the world. My eyes were opened.
These are the things that impacted me the most on the journey: First, I was appalled to learn how much women are mistreated. The Girl Child readings cover a range of topics, including gendercide, female slavery, coverture, wife chastisement, son preference, unwanted baby girls, rape and sexual torture as a sport of war, enslaving marriages, female rites of passage (including female genital cutting), and more. Frankly, a lot of it was hard just to read. It seems that in many places in the world mistreating women is almost a necessary part of being a man. In the U.S. we certainly have our problems too, but I think in our culture women are mistreated in more subtle ways. This mistreatment needs to change at all levels, but the underlying power dynamics and biases are similar whether the expression is overtly explicit or hard to see.
Second, it was eye-opening to learn how ancient and foundational patriarchy is and how it predates just about everything. Sorting out culture from faith has always been tricky and learning about patriarchy helped me to see how Judaism and Christianity developed on a cultural foundation of male power dynamics. Once you see that, it becomes easier to differentiate cultural patriarchy from enduring biblical truth. Patriarchy is not ordained by God, but the Imago Dei is, that men and women are created together in the image of God, and we have work to do to sort this out.
Third, I’ve become convinced that men need to speak up against patriarchal assumptions and practices, support women, and work for culture change whenever and wherever we can. Men have an important and necessary role to play if things are to change. This is not a women’s issue; it’s a human issue and men need to step up for change. I’m grateful to meet men through the reading journey that are in the thick of working on this change in the world, and I’ve become more committed to using whatever power or influence I have to work for change here too.
One practical result of the Girl Child journey is that I sat down with a spreadsheet and rebuilt EGC’s pay structure with a race lens and a gender equity lens. We weren’t terrible, but we weren’t as balanced as we could be. I advocated for some significant pay adjustments and worked with the board to build them into our budget. Pay inequality in my organization was something I had the power to change, and even though it cost us more, I made it a priority because it was the right thing to do.
As I learn about the challenges women face in the world, and the power dynamics of patriarchy in our culture, I see a lot of parallels with what I’m learning about racism.
As a white person, I don’t experience what people of color experience, but I have an important role to play in understanding and learning from the experiences and perspectives of people of color that I know, and a responsibility to use my influence to bring about change wherever I can. And similarly, as a man, I don’t experience what women experience, but I have an important role to play in understanding and learning from the experiences and perspectives of women, and a responsibility to use my influence to bring about change wherever I can. I hope that more men will take the time to read and learn and listen to women. I hope that more men will open their eyes and do the work it takes to overcome their gender biases. And I hope that more men will do what they can to be agents of change in their spheres of influence.
Jeff Bass joined the staff of EGC in 1991 and was named executive director in 1999. A graduate of Princeton University (civil engineering major), Jeff first worked as a consultant for Arthur D. Little, Inc., but left in 1987 to become the business manager of a local church, where he learned first-hand about the inner workings of an urban congregation. In 2014, Jeff was granted an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Gordon College. Jeff is an avid tennis and paddle tennis player. He and his wife, Ellen, have two adult children and two amazing grandchildren.