I am beyond excited to introduce you to Pastor Tiffany Thomas! Believe it or not, we met on Twitter. How I wish I could attend her church on a Sunday morning and grab a sweet tea with this “Southern Belle,” but at least I can get to know her through one of my best friends: social media!
When I saw that she was not only a black woman, but also a female pastor, my heart fluttered a little. Girls like me who dream of breaking the glass steeple and fighting against social injustice find pure delight in women such as Pastor Tiffany!
I began the series on my blog #BlackWomensLivesMatter because I believe women (and particularly minority women) have been told to “sit down and shut up” too many times to count. What better way to defy inequality but to give women a voice and a platform to share their perspective?
I asked Pastor Tiffany five simple questions. Her answers made me smile and tear up a bit.
Here is our interview:
Please tell me about your background?
I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. I have two older brothers. My father is Roman Catholic and I went to mass with him for the first 12 years of my life. I was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith (Even though I am a Methodist preacher I still attend mass about once a week because the Catholic tradition is like a gang, once you are in you can never get out and missing mass is a mortal sin!).
My mother is Baptist and I began to attend church with her around 13. It was about that time that I began to feel a sense of God’s calling on my life. I articulated my calling to ministry at the age of 15 and preached for the first time that same year. I have been working as a minister in the church ever since.
What sort of opposition have you faced being a black female lead pastor and how do you deal with it?
Being a black female lead pastor in the south is like being a unicorn. It is new to the church universal but it is especially new to the black church where masculinity, leadership, and the Divine are still inextricably bound in the pathos of the community. I am truly blessed to lead a congregation of people who are deeply supportive and affirming to my leadership and vision for ministry.
Therefore, in my local church I do not experience much opposition to my professional authority but I have experienced difficult and even dangerous situations because I am a pastor with a female body. Once on a Sunday morning I was in my office early finishing my sermon (reading and writing my sermon) and a man wandered in off the street looking for assistance. I told him that the church was not yet open and to come back in an hour. He asked to speak to the pastor. I told him I was the pastor and again asked him to return during our operational hours. He then became very belligerent, aggressive and attempted to physically attack me.
I safely removed myself from the situation and called the police. My congregation responded to the situation by insisting that I do not spend time at the church by myself. On occasion a visitor might come through the receiving line and will attempt to touch me inappropriately.
The black female body is one that is hypersexualized, mistreated, and abused and there is an assumption that the black female body is one that can be touched or used and the role of pastor does not protect my body from this sort of violence.
I think that is the greatest opposition, that though I stand in a holy role, stand in a holy space, to many onlookers, I am just another sexual object. I am just another thing. Because I am female, I have to work hard at protecting my body as I stand in the role of pastor.
Do you think racism has gotten better or worse?
I think that racism is becoming more complex. First, I think racism is more complex because the concept of race is more complex. As the interracial and interethnic coupling becomes more and more common, it is harder to even identify race.
President Obama has a white mother and a black father. Is the President Black? How about Tiger Woods? Race is both an identity (“I am black” not only refers to my skin color but also refers to my sense of loyalty to a heritage and a communal bond for other people with the same skin color.)
But as we see generations of people creating interracial unions, race as an identity is overwhelmingly breaking down. Race is also a way to classify people in society, ultimately that is the definition of racism. As race becomes harder to identify so is racism. It is harder to see and clearly name, especially institutional racism.
There once was a time when institutional racism was easy to identify. Institutional racism was very clearly marked on the signs that said “white only” or “colored only.” Today institutional racism is harder to find but it is there.
It is in the laws that ensure that the prison systems are full of people of color, it’s in the policies that allow police officers to apprehend white suspects and fatally shoot black suspects. It’s in the school systems, and it’s in the church. It is like salt that has dissolved in water.
You may not be able to see the salt but you can taste it. If you poured it on an open wound it would burn. Racism has dissolved into the waters of our community and it burns.
Why do you think there is such a sudden uproar over racial issues?
In short, I think people are pissed off.
What is your message to young black women?
My message to young black women is three fold. First, do the work of loving yourself. Second, rewrite the narrative of what it is to be a black woman. Do not accept what society, the media, or history offers as a definition of what it is to be a black woman. And most importantly, do the work of loving other black women. Black women are torn down by so many and in so many ways we should not be tearing down each other.
Tiffany is the pastor of South Tryon Community United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Native of Columbus Ohio but has spent over ten years in the South and considers herself a fully naturalized southern belle. She is a graduate of Spelman College and Duke Divinity School. She answered her call to ministry at the age of 15 and has been working in the service of Christ and his bride the Church ever since. Check out her blog at RevTiffanyThomas.wordpress.com or twitter at www.twitter.com/@pastortiffany.
To follow Jory Micah’s blog (which means that you will receive an email every time she writes something new), please go to the home page of this site and enter your email at the bottom of the page. WordPress will then send you an email to confirm. That simple!