Believe the Women: An Interview with Leah Grundset Davis

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Rev. Dr. Leah Grundset Davis began as pastor at Ravensworth Baptist Church, Annandale, Va., in September 2017 in a new model of shared pastoral ministry. Leah previously served as communications specialist at the Alliance of Baptists and Associate Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. She graduated in May 2017 with a Doctor of Ministry degree from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, focused on Baptist women preaching the Magnificat. Her seminary studies were conducted at Baylor's Truett Seminary where she received a Master of Divinity degree in 2007. Leah graduated from Baylor University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Religion. She lives in Bristow, Va., with her husband John, and two young daughters.

Rev. Grundset Davis kindly agreed to an interview about her new book, Believe the Women, with Equity for Women in the Church’s Co-Chair, Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton.

How did you decide to focus on the Magnificat in your book Believe the Women?

The Magnificat has been a formative text for me and I had this idea that just maybe it had been for other women too. And it turned out I was right! It’s this beautiful song of justice and hope, promise and power, and I’ve always connected with Mary singing it in the Gospel of Luke.

Why did you choose to lift up the voices of Alliance of Baptists women preachers in this book?

I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree and that final project was the basis for this book. At the time, I was working for the Alliance of Baptists as the communications specialist and I was noticing we needed to lift up the stories of Alliance clergywomen.

Recount your call to ordained pastoral ministry. How did women you feature in your book influence your call?

When I was 10, I knew I wanted to be a pastor. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church that was formative for me, but the year was 1992 and it was at the height of the schism. So at 10, my pastor told me I couldn’t because I was a woman. My road to ordained ministry was long and winding, never doubting that I could be a pastor, but wondering if I as a woman, would ever receive a call to be one in a local church. Nancy Hastings Sehested and Isabel Docampo were early supporters of the Alliance and I had heard their names. When I finished college at Baylor and began seminary at Truett, Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell was my pastor and all of a sudden, I saw a woman being a pastor. That’s when everything changed and I knew that I would pursue this no matter the obstacles because I felt a deep calling.

How does Mary’s song relate to the song you feel called to sing?

Mary’s song is one that I feel like I can sing every day. With the injustice we see around us, I can sing the Magnificat. With the pain and grief that circles, I can sing this song. In the same way, I can sing this song with joy and celebration. For me, Mary’s song is one that grounds me in my belief that God is love, and God’s hope calls us forward in the reality of our context.

Have you ever questioned your Baptist identity? Why have you remained in the Baptist denomination?

Yes! I tried so hard to not be Baptist when I was in seminary because I knew it would be a hard road to find a pastorate. But as it turns out, I’m Baptist raised and it really is who I am. I believe in what we proclaim—that we all have a direct connection to God, that with soul liberty both we are free and at the same time, always demanding that others be free, the way we voluntarily organize ourselves as Baptists is a good match for me, both in my congregational leanings and my pastoral leadership.

What compelled you to write Believe the Women?

Once I hit submit on my Doctor of Ministry final project, I knew I needed a break, but I also knew I wasn’t done with this work. I wanted a larger audience to know of the stories of these six courageous Alliance clergy women.

How do you answer those feminists who believe that the Bible is misogynistic and cannot be a helpful resource for dismantling patriarchy? Why do you draw from the biblical story of Mary in your book?

I think a lot of the writers of the Bible were misogynistic! But what I also know is that God’s calls for equity and justice is always there—sometimes in between the lines, sometimes on the margin of the text. As we interpret and re-tell the stories, we have a chance to lift up the voices that have too long been neglected and share their stories in the light of God’s liberating love.

How do the stories and sermons of Rev. Dr. Isabel Docampo and Rev. Maria Swearingen illustrate intersectional feminism? Are there other women featured in your book who also draw from the intersection of justice concerns?

This work of intersectionality was one that I could only dip my toe into for a little book. I was living with the work of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw and asking how do intersections influence how we preach and how we interpret the biblical text. Without writing a tome, I think Isabel’s story tells about what it meant to be Cuban-American and a mujerista theologian and Baptist in the United States South and she preaches from that place. Maria, preaches with attention to her identity as a Puerto Rican, queer woman, who can’t stop being Baptist. When we lift up these stories, we learn so much about these women, ourselves, and our Creator. I think all the women in the book touch on some form of intersectional justice concerns.

The voices of current-day women are still stifled by many churches who deny them opportunities for pastoral ministry. How do you see your generation opening more doors for women to sing the songs they feel called to sing? What is your hope for this book?

I think we are poised for more and more women to be singing freely. Transwomen are being ordained in Baptist churches and the world is hearing a whole new song—more songs of the beauty of God’s creation. It is still difficult to find pastoral positions, but the songs of liberation are only getting louder and bolder. Women, who have known of the oppressive weight of patriarchy, are leading the choir now--singing boldly against Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, racism, white supremacy, and hate. We’ll keep singing just like Mary—we have to.

What’s one question about your new book you’d like to answer that I didn’t ask? What comes next for Believe the Women?

At the Alliance of Baptists’ Annual Gathering, I was speaking with a group of women pastors from Cuba and they asked me if this would be translated into Spanish. My hope is that we can next gather stories of these pastors and their stories in Spanish and share them widely!

Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested, Rev. Kyndra Frazier, and Rev. Grundset Davis

Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested, Rev. Kyndra Frazier, and Rev. Grundset Davis