The Junia Project editorial team agreed completely with Rob Dixon’s thoughts on the use of gender-based humor in the pulpit.
But to be honest, we weren’t sure how readers would react. Would people see this as an overreaction? Being too sensitive? Making a bigger deal out of something than we needed to? Those questions were decisively answered within hours of publishing 5 Reasons Not to Use Gender-Based Jokes in the Pulpit.
The 100+ comments showed that most people have negative reactions to this kind of humor. Aside from many simple affirmations like “Is this something that needs to be said?!” and “I can’t believe anyone in a pulpit would be that clueless”, readers shared insights and examples that showed how widespread this problem is. Interestingly, many of the comments came from men.
We came away with four new insights from the discussion that I’ll share a little further down. But before we get there here are a few “must read” comments, especially if you are someone who ever picks up a microphone on any kind of platform:
“I find it extremely distracting.“
“I basically left a church because he wouldn’t stop doing this!”
“I can’t listen to anything else after.”
“I can think of one more: Gender-based jokes are dehumanizing.”
“’They’re inherently sexist’ isn’t enough?”
“It leads me right out the door. I feel the same with any sort of ethnic “humor.” There is no place for any of it, but I am glad if a pastor is relaxed enough to show his true colors so I can leave early.”
“I have been in many services where I spent thirty minutes reeling from the sting of some painful joke at the expense of women.”
“Sexism costs: 1) Giving my non-Christian wife a reason to ignore the sermon. 2) Belittling my marriage struggles with cheap “happy wife” lines. 3) Forcing me to reject community by making every men’s event about violence. 4) Reminding me of the dismissal of my wife and daughters giftings…”
“Most pastors would never think of making racial jokes in the pulpit. Gender jokes should be just as obviously off limits. I don’t like it anymore if the joke is on men, just for the record…”
“I’ve heard more gender stereotype jokes aimed at men (by men). Though they may have been intended to come across as self-deprecating, it can be used as an excuse to disengage from their families. “I’m just a man. That’s my wife’s thing.” Thus raising children and running a household isn’t a man’s responsibility. And the jokes give other men the perfect excuse to opt out, too.”
“I am equally frustrated with the big dumb buffoon male trope as I am with the ditzy female or poor overworked wife/mother trope. Let’s cut out all ‘humour’ that reduces people to one characteristic. It’s not just insulting; it’s a disastrous dismissal of the complexity of humans created in God’s image.”
”When I realize that all a “preacher” is doing is a standup routine, I’m out the door.”
”…I remember getting really upset during the sermon one day because the male youth pastor described someone being weak, as, “He was acting like a little girl!” It got big laughs, but as a woman sitting there next to my strong but impressionable middle school girls, I was offended and angry.”
”How am I supposed to take seriously the advice of someone who thinks I must care only about shopping and my husband about sports, when we don’t fit the stereotypes?”
“May I add Point 6? It reinforces an “us vs. them” mentality between men and women…Preachers talk constantly about the need for spouses to respect each other. Well then, stop pitting us against each other!”
“I know many preachers who make jokes about marriage think they are being cute or clever or amusing their audience, but these days, with over 50% of the adult American population being single…the marriage jokes only make singles feel more excluded and marginalized than we already are.”
“This is one of the main reasons that I stopped attending my previous church. As a single professional woman in my 30s I couldn’t take any more of the “let’s celebrate all the things women do around the house” portrayal of women [and] Duck Dynasty-based quotes about ‘real men grow beards’.”
”I’ve been in church when the pastor decided to joke about ‘ditzy blonde women’. All I could think about is how many of those women would not be back the next Sunday.”
Here are four things we learned from your comments:
1) Don’t assume people approve of gender-based jokes just because they laugh. It can be a natural response to an awkward situation.
2) People really do leave churches because of sexist behavior like gender-based jokes and illustrations.
3) Gender-based jokes are offensive to both men and women; to marrieds and to singles.
4) People find gender-based humor more distracting or offensive than engaging.
Within days Rob’s post became the 5th most viewed post EVER on our blog.
This suggests a serious disconnect between leadership and “those in the pews”. There is a reason this kind of thing doesn’t sit well with us – it goes against God’s ideal of an equal partnership between men and women established at creation.
This reader summed it up well:
Preachers and church leaders are in positions of power. They need to be humble and sensitive in their leadership. We get plenty of sexism in the world. Church, kindly leave it at the door!”
It seems that people often go along with sexist practices in the church even when they don’t agree with those practices. Why is that?
YOUR TURN: How can we encourage pastors to reconsider their use of humor based on gender-stereotypes?
What It Says (Rob’s reflections on the tremendous response to his post.)
Image Credit: iStock.com