Find Out Why This Pregnant And Unwed Pastor Is Refusing To Step Down
One of the things I love most about my church in New York, First Corinthian Baptist Church is the genuine love you experience when you walk through the door. They literally have a Smile ministry, people who smile at you, sincerely when you walk into the sanctuary for Sunday service. When people join the church, the congregation literally sings a song to them. A song including the lyrics, “We love you.” But it’s not just something they say, it’s something you feel and experience.
And it’s consistent.
Their reaction to one of our executive pastors turning up pregnant and unmarried, was also one of love.
And while the church was willing to embrace Pastor Desiree Allen with open arms, the process for her to shake off the shame and stigma was a separate process. One she wrote about extensively on her blog, NotCinderella.com.
I was pregnant. My immediate reaction was shock. This was not planned. Yes, I know it’s a potential consequence of having sex, but not one readily expected. With the exception of living a pretty much celibate lifestyle in my twenties I had been having sex on and off since I was 15 and had never been pregnant. In fact, I assumed when I was ready it would be very hard for me to conceive. Boy did I miscalculate that.
After the initial shock was joy. Yet, underneath something else was lingering. Anger? No. Disappointment? No. It was pure and utter dread. Not at being pregnant. Not at whether or not I would be a good mother. What had my stomach turning, other than nausea, was me being pregnant AND a pastor. Let’s face it. The church has not had a good track record of accepting unmarried women who got pregnant. If you’ve been in church for any period of time you’ve heard or witnessed the aftermath. Shunning, slut shaming, being sat down from your position, having to go up in front of the church and confess your sin, etc. etc. No one can be naïve enough to say this type of stuff doesn’t happen in church. An ugly truth is people in church leadership have sex outside of marriage, affairs, do drugs, drink, so on and so forth. Generally, these are not considered acceptable acts. BUT I have seen many churches turn a blind eye to this behavior, because it can be hidden. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. To be pregnant is a very visible indication of a private act and for some reason provides people with more of a need to respond.
You may as well Scarlet Letter it up and place a big ole S on your chest for sex Hester Prynne style. “The church” is already harsher on women for their “crimes,” but being a pastor also meant that both me and my fiancé were going to go through this publicly. I didn’t know what that meant, how it would affect my job and if I was prepared to deal with it.
Pregnancy already inherently diminishes some anonymity as people feel it their right to invade your personal space, offer up unsolicited advice and ask you private questions. Pastorship inherently makes some feel your personal life is their public business as you lose some sense of individuality for the sake of belonging to the church. As a pretty private person I had always struggled with the latter. Adding pregnancy seemed like my worse nightmare.
It was not as if I had a blueprint for this in my church. My pastors had been very open about having their first child while unmarried in college. That was more than 20 years ago. They were young. None of us were there. They were not pastors then. It was in the past enough to be hazy memory and turn into a testimony. Many of us know the struggles we have had in the past. For many, it’s what brought us to church. Yet, as soon as we get far enough away from our struggles to label them “redeemable” or for them not to be in the forefront of our minds it becomes much easier to give someone else the side eye for behavior we don’t agree with. It is often easier to NOT afford others the grace we were so freely offered. I had experienced people judge everything from my clothing to social media posts fully aware that if it had been another pastor they would’ve gotten a pass. My apprehension was not unwarranted and although privately excited I was concerned about public persona. I did a lot of wrestling that week. I came to grips with the reality that part of the monster in my head was created by me. My past. My upbringing. What I was taught about the bible.
I realized I had some baggage and I wanted to deal with this pregnancy on my own terms regardless of how people felt or responded. In those first few months I decided I couldn’t carry the weight of others’ opinions and judgments including my own. I also had to confront the ways in which I judged others based on their decisions and actions. I decided I was going to walk with my head held high, because I was proud and excited to be pregnant. Often, when people think you’ve done something wrong or have sinned they want you to walk around with your head low in guilt. Otherwise, how would THEY know you were sorry? Well, I wasn’t sorry or ashamed. Shame and happiness cannot reside in the same place. I decided to only surround myself with those who had positive energy. I knew there would be rough days, but I also knew the good would outweigh the bad. So when the first comment was made about my pregnancy being an abomination I wasn’t bothered, because it wasn’t MY truth. Plus who uses abomination anyway? Can we say antiquated?
I had a choice on how to define my own happy and write my own story. I thought about the women who were belittled in their churches for being pregnant. The women who felt abortion was a better option than humiliation. The girl or young women of a pastor forced into abortion, because the family couldn’t handle the shame. The woman who left the church permanently because the members couldn’t accept her child. The woman who watched the same people who loved her each Sunday avoid her like a plague. The woman who would give up everything to be pregnant regardless of the circumstances and still finds her womb bare. So many women who may have made a different choice if they understood the power they had. If someone had told them, it was ok to make the best choice for them ignoring the outside voices. It would get better. They could outlive this. I understood what some people thought, what some scriptures said, but also the validity of my own experience.
Then Desiree spoke about the moment she told the church staff that she was expecting, after three months.
“Do it now.”
“What? Are you crazy? This is not the time.”
“It may not be your timing, but it IS the perfect time.”
“Can’t I wait? Or tell them one by one?”
“Well if you wanted to wait you shouldn’t have worn that dress. Come on. It will be like pulling off a Band-Aid. Have this conversation once and you won’t have to have it again.”
“You’ll be fine. The outcome will be better than expected.”
The words kind of fell out of my mouth in front of everyone. I explained my joy and the importance this did not undo and diminish all the work and dedication I had put in for six years. I felt empowered. I shared what I wanted to share, how I wanted to share, own my own terms. I wasn’t responding to anyone or defending myself. I was standing in my truth. In a moment I will never forget, our executive pastor had the staff encircle around me and they begin to pray. A noise that can only be described as a wail left my mouth and I broke. To the point of needing a chair to sit in. I broke in the most beautiful way possible. In the breaking I was free. That ugly Jesus cry released every anxiety, fear and worry holding me down. They promised to protect me and support me. In that moment I saw God. It was a moment that transcended boundaries or judgment. It was pure love. I felt free.
One of my favorite lines from The Scarlet Letter is: “She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.” I was carrying a lot of weight and baggage. The weight of what if. The weight of my upbringing. The weight of others’ opinions. The weight of judgment. It was heavy and I did the hard work of dropping that weight. I have no plans of picking it back up.
So no, I cannot carry your weight about MY situation. Whoever you are. I have my own beautiful, amazing and miraculous weight to carry for the next few months and a lifetime.
You can read Allen’s full piece over at NotCinderella.com. The comment section is particularly interesting. I’m sure I’ll get responses without asking the question, but if you found yourself in this same situation, how would you handle it? Would you continue to preach?
Image via NotCinderella.com by Eddie Sparkman.