I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in 2001. I didn’t plan to call myself Dr. Edmiston although several of my parishioners at the time insisted that both the worship bulletin and church stationery reflect the fact that the church had a pastor who was a “Doctor.”
All three of my pastor predecessors were “Rev. Dr.” but I learned that each of them actually had honorary doctorates from a Christian college that the church supported financially. Yet they were each called Dr. ___ until they died.
Mostly people have called me “Jan” or “Pastor Jan” and this is okay with me because as an educated White Woman, I grew up with the expectation that I belonged in most any professional context you might find me. I didn’t need the “Dr.” in front of my name to convince people I was smart.
Again – I am White.
My Black colleagues with Master and Doctoral degrees always use the “Rev. Dr.” in front of their names because it reflects their achievements in a world that doesn’t assume that Black and Brown people are professional, well-educated, brilliant human beings. And it’s about respect in a culture that has not respected their ancestors.
Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Dean of the School of Divinity at Howard University wrote this article in The Christian Century recently in which she talked about this need for respect. She shared the story of civil rights activist Mary Hamilton who was arrested during a peaceful protest in Alabama in 1963 and was held in contempt of court after refusing to answer questions until she was addressed as “Miss Hamilton.” The laws in Alabama were changed because of her demand for respect.
We live in rather casual culture now where children call their pastors by their first names – at least in some churches. I call all my colleagues by their first names when I am talking with them, but they are Dr. __ or Rev. __ when I’m referring to them among their parishioners, especially when I’m referring to Black and Brown colleagues. This is an essential teaching tool. I work among some of the most gifted pastors in the country and I know that my Black colleagues are still not respected in the same way my White colleages are. To remind church people that their leaders are graduate school-educated pastors is important, especially when some church folks disrespect their leaders.
Joseph Epstein’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal here sparked controversy when he suggested that Dr. Jill Biden wasn’t a real doctor because her degree was a Doctor of Education. He was challenged in social media to put it mildly.
It’s important for the First Lady to be known as Dr. Biden to remind us that she, too, is a well-educated leader with expertise beyond the honorific of FLOTUS.
I can be called “Jan” without dismissing myself because of my White Privilege. And yet sometimes I use Rev. Dr. Edmiston because it’s a helpful reminder to some that women can be pastors and holders of doctorate degrees.
My point is that I imagine a world in which we stop assuming that just because people not in the dominant demographic, it doesn’t mean they aren’t gifted and worthy of respect. God sees us as we were created to be. This alone should be enough to see each other in new ways.
Image showing the three stripes of a doctoral robe. I don’t know why Juris Doctor recipients aren’t called “Dr.”