The Black Lives Matter movement caused me to look at the privileges that being white has afforded me. An unexpected outcome from reading Sister Sandra Makowski’s book Searching for God and Finding the Treasure was being forced to look at the privileges that being male has brought me.

No one ever questioned my ability to work in the church because I am a male. In fact, many urged me to assume more responsibility. Never have I been told that my prayers were unacceptable because I used the wrong words to sign off.

It is difficult to imagine the horrors that this devout Christian has endured unless you have read Susan Spark’s account of being told that girls can’t be preachers by her Baptist pastors.

This is not just a Catholic story. It is the story of how women who are called to serve God have been abused, denied, ignored, disrespected, belittled, undervalued and underpaid.

My friend was serving her first job as an assistant pastor in a church affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The lead pastor was so disrespectful of her gifts, so jealous of her popularity with the congregation and so insecure that he drove her from the ministry entirely.

It is not a Catholic story. The Southern Baptist Convention has written into its 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement that women cannot be senior pastors. The denomination is now plagued with dozens of cases of abuse, which it has failed to adequately address, often citing local church autonomy as a reason for its limited actions.

Tragically, while the claim that each church is autonomous was cited as a reason for not adequately addressing the sexual abuse crisis, this position has not prevented the SBC from expelling churches that do not abide by its doctrinal views. Not until after the release of a Houston Chronicle report in 2019 did the SBC decide to make mishandling sexual abuse as a basis for removing a church from the convention.

In addition to losing her twin sister in a car accident, Sister Sandra’s search for God was thwarted at every turn by men and women who should have been the ones to help her. What she discovered through many trials is that God is not always in the places where she was taught that God should be.

She was so traumatized by her confirmation that it was years before she entered the confessional booth again. There were those “Sisters” in grade school who showed her kindness and compassion. Thanks to their influence, she was not lost to Christian service.

She was in the first class of women admitted to study Cannon Law, but the women were often belittled and ignored by the male faculty. The same maltreatment greeted her in her new role.

Sister Sandra was deceived, belittled and ignored. In desperation she pleaded, “God give me a sign? I am going to close my eyes and open my Bible. I will put my finger down on a verse and it had better be a sign from you or I am done.”

She put her finger down and opened her eyes. The verse was, “Love is strong as death” (Song of Solomon 8:6, NRSV). Makowski began to realize that she saw God every day and God was saying to her.

“See the mothers holding their babies with love and affection. See the crippled and lame being taken care of by a loved one who held them steady as they entered the church doors or stood in line for confession. See the face of the homeless man who lost his entire family in a car accident – he asked you for help in getting a library card because he was trying to find a book that would comfort him,” she wrote. “You gave him the Bible … and he wept. This is the real church.”

Sister Sandra has written an exciting, challenging and disquieting book. It leads me in a direction that I did not expect and leaves me with work to do in my own life, church and denomination.

Who could expect more?

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