women ministers

The Will to Fight

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Post author Dr. Cynthia R. Cole, M.Div., D. Min., is a pastor and an advocate for the disenfranchised. She is the founder of CC’s Ministries, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to meeting the safety and security needs of residents in South Dallas, Texas. She is the Senior Pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Dallas, where she has served for over a decade. A former law enforcement professional and hospice chaplain, she is deeply committed to cultivating the healing, wholeness, and empowerment necessary for growth in every facet of human life.

The journey to wholeness and healing has been fraught with many roadblocks. These roadblocks have challenged my physical, mental, and emotional health, and I’ve had to muster the strength to deal with both my mother’s abuse from my stepfather and my own abuse from my former husband. Like my mother, I married and bore a daughter at a very young age. After I was forced at gunpoint to leave my abusive marriage, I found employment and studied to receive my high school diploma equivalency from the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges. I began a career in law enforcement because I wanted to be able to protect myself and my daughter. After twenty-five years of service, I retired from law enforcement in 1999.

Overcoming the varied manifestations of violence that I have had to confront domestically, professionally, and ecclesiastically, requires a will to fight. I liken my life’s path to that of the character Sophia in Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple. One of the famous lines from the book is, “All my life I’ve had to fight.” Yes, I’ve had to fight, but I draw strength from God and from my personal pain in order to empower women to stand against any form of domestic, professional, and ecclesiastical violence. This is the mission of my ministry.

When I first embraced the call to preach, God showed me clearly that there was a need for a healing ministry for women. This healing ministry would focus on repairing broken family relationships, abuse, and neglect. I was inspired to bring together twenty-five chosen women for a healing, deliverance, and empowerment conference. The initial gathering of women evolved into what was eventually called “The Christmas Delight.” I presented it as an annual event the first weekend of December in 2001. Over the years since, I have received many letters from women who have attended, sharing with me testimonies of how God spoke into their lives through this ministry event. This year, December 16, 2017, we are extending the invitation to include men out of a desire to establish communal wholeness.

As a second means for answering the call to promote healing, I established a non-profit organization in 2004, CC’s Ministries. The mission of CC’s Ministries is to meet the needs of residents living in South Dallas who are disenfranchised and impoverished. I purchased a home in Southern Dallas County with the short-term objective of converting it into a safe house for abused women and children. In pursuing this work, I have discovered that the community also benefits from other basic needs such as food, clothing, and counseling. Since 2004, CC’s Ministries has provided these services to countless families in South Dallas and abroad.

I have chosen to take my life experiences and channel them into meaningful, liberating ministry. I believe firmly in women taking authority and operating in their own agency as empowered persons capable of any task set before them, especially ministry. Again, I have come to these conclusions from my own struggles in leadership. On November 17, 2007, my commitment to fight violence through loving ministry was tested as I was assigned to a congregation, following a retired pastor who had served the local congregation for thirty-three years. The retired minister remained with the congregation as an active member until his death in 2013.

When I first arrived, members of the congregation appeared to be excited to hear a new voice and to experience a new style of preaching. However, conflict soon arose. My authority as pastor was undermined by the antics of the former pastor who was directing members from behind the scenes. He discouraged members from receiving communion from me, suggesting that they would be taking it to their “damnation.” God blessed the ministry despite his efforts to sabotage it. Fourteen new members joined in the first month. These new members needed to be baptized, but the ministerial staff at the church refused to assist me in baptizing them. One of the ministerial staff members blatantly stated that no woman has the authority to speak, lead, or guide a man. Despite his sentiments and without his assistance, I baptized all fourteen new members over the months to follow.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but ministry is not my first experience in a male-oriented field. As previously stated, I worked in law enforcement, and as a result, I was well aware of how women are treated differently from their male colleagues. The difference between my expectations in law enforcement and the church is that I expected Christians to act differently than the members of secular society. Nothing could have prepared me for the harsh way I have been treated over the years by people who say they love God and are seeking to be more Christ-like. It is as though I am competing against men who have identified it as their mission to show me that my place is not beside them but rather beneath them. I am also fighting against women who have internalized sexism and patriarchy. They want to convince me that I am wrong for moving out of the submissive female role.

One scriptural passage that has helped me frame my journey is 2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV), which states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Like the Apostle Paul, who penned these words to Timothy before his impending execution, I am determined to stand for what is right even if I stand alone or am ostracized for it. I cannot say that I have attained perfection, but the will to fight urges me on. I pray that others will also be inspired to oppose any form of discrimination that hinders people from expressing their full selves or achieving their full potential in God the Creator.

Men Speak Out for Equity for Women in the Church

This blog post features male voices speaking out in support of Equity for Women in the Church’s mission.  We asked contributors to respond to this prompt: 

Often advocating for women in ministry is seen as a “women’s issue,” rather than as an urgent justice matter that impacts the whole church and every gender.  Why is the equal representation of clergywomen as pastors important for men, too?  How can men advocate on behalf of women in ministry? 

Each respondent offers his own creative insight and call to wholeness...

Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle, President, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School:

I should begin by saying that my pastor for the first eight years of my life was The Rev. Mary G. Evans of Cosmopolitan Community Church in Chicago. It was because of her, that I could never join the chorus of those who sought to argue that women could not or should not be in the Christian ministry. This 1930s University of Chicago Divinity School trained woman remains the standard by which I measure all other clergy; male or female.

Just as important for me is Paul’s reference to Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 where Paul refers to Phoebe, one of his female followers by the term diakonos, the exact same term he uses whenever he refers to Timothy or other male followers of Jesus. Granted, Paul seems to point in a different direction when he speaks about women in I Corinthians 14:33-35 and I Timothy 2:11-12. In those two passage Paul seems to either discourage or disallow women any voice or leadership in the early church. In those instances, Paul seems inclined to embrace the prevailing cultural view regarding the status of women in what were the patriarchal, male-dominated societies of the Greco-Roman world. However, in Galatians 3:28 and again in Romans 16:1-2 Paul shows more openness to the full and equal status of women in the church, no matter what the cultural norms might have been.

As the role and status of women in the world has changed, so must the church change its practices and policies regarding any attempt to prevent women from exercising leadership as preachers, pastors, and teachers in the church. I have personally ordained, hired, or installed over two dozen women into ministry positions. All of them continue to serve with distinction. The legacy of Mary G. Evans continues. Praise the Lord!

Marv Knox, Editor of the Baptist Standard, Dallas, TX:

Equal representation of clergywomen as pastors is vital for men as well as women. Let’s consider two perspectives.

First, what if you woke up and discovered more than half your body was paralyzed? The Apostle Paul called the church the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), so this is a fair question. More than 50 percent of most congregations, as well as the church universal, are females. When we deny them the opportunity to serve as pastor, we separate the church from its base of strength. We prohibit the body of Christ from exercising its full potential.

 Second, women bring enormous gifts and blessings to the pastorate. Traits often exhibited abundantly by women—empathy and the innate ability to identify with others, intuition, and willingness to listen first and speak later—are essential qualities for successful pastors. From preaching, to pastoral care, to long-range planning, women pastors excel and expand God’s Kingdom.

 How can men advocate on behalf of women ministers?

• Encourage girls to grow up to be all God wants them to be—and mean it.

• Learn and quote Scripture passages that affirm the ministry of women.

• Speak up for women in ministry; put yourself between bullies and women in ministry.

• Encourage women ministers.

• Pray for them.

Rev. Scott Shirley, Pastor, Church in the Cliff, Dallas, TX:

First, it’s biblical – women have held ministerial positions in every era of the biblical narrative. Junia was an apostle; Phoebe was a deacon; Chloe was a head of household and leader in the church at Corinth; Miriam, Deborah, and Anna were prophets; Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim the resurrection; unnamed women throughout the Bible mourn and grieve alongside those who suffer. Every task set before me as a minister was done by women in the Bible.

Second, roughly half the people in the world are women. How can the Church speak to women if we won’t allow women to speak with authority? How can we even know what to say if we don’t allow women’s voices in the room? How can we deprive ourselves of the wisdom, knowledge, experience, passion, and strength of half the world?

Finally, personally, I cannot count the number of strong, smart, passionate women I have been blessed to know and learn from. The female teachers, mentors, and colleagues that have helped form me in ministry by far outweigh the value of the men. That’s just the truth. To the men who object to having women in ministry, it is certainly your loss. But you must consider the loss to God’s people at your hands and repent.

Rev. Dr. John Ballenger, Pastor, Woodbrook Baptist Church, Baltimore, MD:

“Dad, why did the preacher say I must have misunderstood God?”

“One … two … three ….”

“What are you doing, Dad?”

“Counting to ten … slowly.”

“You know the dentist said it’s not good
when you grind your teeth together like that.” 

“I know. Thank you for reminding me.
Here’s the thing: do you remember
how utterly disappointed we were
at all the pictures we took on Cadillac Mountain
facing to the east,
looking out over the ocean and the Cranberry Islands,
and facing to the west,
looking out over the lakes and ponds and sounds and bays?
Do you remember how every picture
totally missed the scale of what we saw?”

“Yes. The pictures seemed so small.
And none of them got—
they all got just a little bit—a little piece of what we saw.”

“Exactly. And when it comes to God,
we all turn God and God’s vision for us and for creation
into a smaller version—a distorted vision.
Like with the pictures, it has to do with our limits.” 

“You mean with us being human beings and God being God?”

“Well there is that.
But I really don’t know how to think about what that means anymore.
So I mean more the limits of our imagination—
of our discipline, and commitment, and our compassion.” 

“The limits that keep us from what you’ve always called living big?”

“Yes! 
And a lot of our limits—a lot of our living small
really boils down to fear—
the fear of what’s different—
the fear of not being in control—
the fear of losing control—of losing power.
I think most of our fear though—is the fear that we’re not special.”

“We’re terrified that we’re smaller than we are,
and then act all big because we’re afraid we’re not
and become smaller than we ever were to begin with.”

“Yes. And then don’t even know to be frustrated with the smallness—
or even acknowledge it.
As if to admit our small, somehow makes God small,
instead of simply affording us the opportunity to say
something about what’s so much bigger.”

“So instead of letting our small sink into big,
we shrink God.”

“All too often, yes.
But one of the best gifts of our God and of our faith,
if we’re open to it,
is the call of God’s big to our small—
the call of beyond and more to what is.
So if God calls you to include
and to love
and to speak out for and with those who aren’t listened to—
if God calls you to preach
good news that’s not easy—
that’s hard and hopeful—
good news that’s big,
then anyone who tells you you’ve misunderstood ….”

“You’re grinding your teeth again.”

“You know, if it’s just them
missing what you have to share,
that’s sad.
But if they are in positions to deny your voice—
to make your big seem small—
when their own small shrinks a vision so much bigger,
that’s infuriating—
still sad,
but even more infuriating. 

Ultimately, of course, small cannot contain big.
It can do a lot of damage trying.
More than just making parts of big real uncomfortable—
small can kill parts of big, but, in the end,
small cannot contain big.”

“That’s Easter, isn’t it?”

“That’s why it’s they who misunderstand.
In the end, it’s all Easter.
And the first one to get that—the first one to preach that—
the first one to preach Easter—”

“Was a woman!”

A Deacon in Heaven

Post author Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton serves as co-chair of Equity for Women in the Church and adjunct professor at Richland College. She is an Alliance of Baptists ordained minister and an award-winning hymn text writer and author of books on inclusive theology and worship. She blogs at www.jannaldredgeclanton.com.



For more than 30 years my mother, Eva Aldredge Henley, advocated for the ordination of women deacons and pastors in her West Texas Baptist church. But that still hasn’t happened. She didn’t live to see this happen—at least not on earth. One of her church friends wrote in the memorial service guest book: “She’s a deacon in heaven!”

For 90+ years Mother prayed, along with Christians around the world, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our Creator’s will for her was finally done in heaven. But why not on earth as in heaven? Why didn’t the churches she served so faithfully for so many years give her the freedom to become all she’s created to be in the divine image while she was on earth? Far too many churches still deny the divine image in women by denying them the right to be deacons, pastors, or priests.

All her long life Mother was a dedicated Christian and faithful church member. She taught Sunday school for 82 years. The Sunday before she went to heaven, she even taught her class. Her class, “Any and All,” is aptly named because she not only welcomed all to her class but actively sought them out. She invited anyone she saw—from the grocery store cashier to waiters at restaurants. Her class members have been of 5 different races, various ages, genders, and economic backgrounds—many who don’t feel comfortable in other Sunday school classes and churches. She lived Jesus’ words: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

She ministered to a diversity of people also in her role as pastor’s wife in four churches. Like my father, she had a seminary degree and abundant pastoral gifts. Her gregarious personality, dynamic speaking voice, and exceptional leadership skills made her every bit as qualified as my father to pastor a church. But she served churches as an unpaid, untitled outreach worker, events organizer, educator, and development officer. She co-founded a missions organization and led mission trips to eight countries, including 46 mission trips to Ukraine. She raised money for missions around the world. In addition, she ministered to students for 25 years in her position as a high school English teacher.

In spite of her long, faithful service, churches did not consider her “qualified” to be ordained as a deacon or a pastor because she was a woman. They ordained men half her age and younger with far fewer gifts and far fewer years of dedicated service. They counted them worthy and qualified because they were men. But no woman, no matter how gifted or called or how faithfully she served the church, was deemed worthy and qualified—simply because she was female.

Sadly, churches’ discrimination against women is still widespread. This discrimination has consequences. In a Baptist Standard article titled “How Do Evangelicals Enable ‘Locker Room Talk’ about Women?” editor Marv Knox calls out “male-dominated patriarchal” evangelical churches who contribute to “rape culture” by treating “women as objects” instead of as “creatures of infinite worth who bear the image of their Creator.” He writes: “Women are the backbone of the church, but in most congregations, they are not allowed to exercise leadership equal with men. Few allow women to be deacons; fewer still allow them to be pastors. So, no matter how many times they tell their daughters, ‘God made you, and you can be anything God wants you to be,’ they don’t mean it. Girls and women have their limits.”

President Jimmy Carter writes in A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power that “discrimination and violence against women and girls is the world’s most serious violation of human rights,” and he points out the religious basis for this discrimination and violence:

There is a system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms.

A Baptist Sunday school teacher for more than 70 years, Carter gives thorough biblical support for the equality of women:

There is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he treated them as equal to men, which was dramatically different from the prevailing custom of the times. The four Gospels were written by men, but they never report any instance of Jesus’ condoning sexual discrimination or the implied subservience or inferiority of women. It is ironic that women are deprived of the right to serve Jesus Christ in positions of leadership as they did during his earthly ministry and for about three centuries in the early Christian churches. It is inevitable that this sustained religious suppression of women as inferior or unqualified has been a major influence in depriving women of equal status within the worldwide secular community.

Churches’ discrimination against women has consequences. Our recent Presidential election is a striking example. The majority of evangelicals and Catholics voted for a man who denigrated and abused women through his words and actions, even bragging about sexually assaulting women. This majority of evangelicals and Catholics didn’t value women enough to find this candidate’s behavior reprehensible enough to keep them from voting for him. Their churches have taught them that women are not really worth that much, not worthy enough to be ordained deacons, pastors, or priests. So it’s little wonder they don’t think a Presidential candidate’s misogynist words and deeds are a big deal. And since their churches have taught them that women are not qualified and worthy to be deacons, pastors, or priests, they don’t believe a woman, no matter how qualified, is worthy to be President either. They have learned well what churches, through words and actions, have taught them about the inferiority of women.

How long, how long will churches contribute to discrimination and violence against women by denying them freedom to fulfill their calling to be deacons, pastors, or priests?

Now more than ever, I feel the urgency of the mission of Equity for Women in the Church. Equity for Women in the Church is an ecumenical movement to facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society. Since the fall of 2013 this ecumenical, multicultural organization has been working towards justice and equality for women and girls. We work to tap all the unused talent and training of culturally diverse women. We advocate and network for women across denominations and cultures so that we have opportunities to fulfill our calling to be deacons, pastors, or priests. We work to change churches so they affirm the divine image in women and girls as making us worthy and qualified to be included as equals in every aspect of ministry. Love demands it. Scripture teaches it. Jesus modeled it.

As a “deacon in heaven,” Mother continues to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—our Creator’s will for women to have equal freedom to become all we’re created to be. I’d like to believe that as Mother now has this freedom in heaven, she may be able to help make it so on earth.

 

Not So Fast...The Double-Edged Sword of a Few Opportunities for Women Pastors

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Post author Rev. Christine A. Smith has served as Senior Pastor, Covenant Baptist Church, Euclid, Ohio, since 2006. She is the author of Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling:  Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors (Judson Press, 2013) and creator of Shepastor, a blog for women in ministry. Rev. Smith has been married to Aristide Smith, Jr. for 22 years.  Together they have two sons (Aristide III and Caleb) and one daughter (Aris).

More and more congregations across Protestant denominations appear to be accepting women as licensed and ordained ministers.  Over the past two years, ABC USA saw the hiring of at least 6 women to serve as executive ministers in regions across America.  Recently, the historic Riverside Church in New York called a woman pastor.  Increasing numbers of churches have women serving as associate ministers.

Many seminaries have enrollments comprised of approximately 50% women. We are on our way, so it would appear.  But not so fast…

While it may seem that the struggle for women clergy is over, data proves otherwise. According to a 2015 Duke University study on the number of women serving as senior/solo pastors, the number still lingers at 11%.

In the article, “How Thick is the Stained Glass Ceiling?,” Heather Hahn writes:

Even as U.S. congregations become more ethnically diverse, a new analysis of Duke University’s National Congregations Study shows that women hold only a small minority of those faith communities’ top leadership positions.

Women serve as senior or solo pastoral leaders of just 11 percent of U.S. congregations — indicating essentially no overall increase from when the study was first done in 1998. These women-led communities contain only about 6 percent of the people who attend the nation’s religious services.

Yes, we have seen advancement in the number of women being called to and placed in senior/solo pastor positions, but the advancement is minimal and at a snail’s pace.  The fact that we can name the women indicates their scarcity. 

While the image of women serving in the pulpit is a welcomed picture, it can also be a double-edged sword.   With the advancement of a precious few women to the role of senior/solo pastor, some are developing a perspective that the struggle is over. With the increase of churches licensing and ordaining women, women serving in the role of associate minister is also on the rise.  Congregations who have one, two or more female associate ministers may truly struggle to understand the issue simply because they see women in the pulpit.

The stained glass ceiling, however, remains.  Statistics show that 89% of the time, Protestant churches pass over clergywomen and instead select a man for the top ministerial role.  In light of these daunting factors, what can advocates for women clergy do to change the current trend?  Below are some practical suggestions…

  • Retiring male pastors can help prepare their congregations to be open to God’s best… 3-5 years before their retirement, male pastors who are advocates for women clergy can spend time encouraging their congregations to be open to God’s best for them, regardless of gender.  Through sound biblical teaching, giving women opportunities to serve in prominent leadership roles, and open, honest dialogue, male pastors can plant seeds of receptivity among otherwise resistant lay people.
     
  • Denominational leaders can work with regional executives and elders to conduct workshops, provide resources (books, articles, guest speakers, etc.), and offer educational experiences to local pastoral search committees…  Whether churches have the “call” process or the “appointment” process, providing resources to church leaders that will help them to choose God’s best, regardless of gender, could be very beneficial for all concerned.
     
  • Develop a “Lead Pastor” project for women who feel called to pastor… The United Methodist Church developed a special program designed to pair women clergy called to pastor with women currently serving in the lead pastoral role.  The clergywomen shadowed/interned the lead pastor for a period of time.  This gave the clergywomen exposure and experience in leading larger congregations—a critical factor in creating opportunities for women who are often passed over due to lack of experience. (Read more about this endeavor here.)  Other denominations can develop a similar approach to increase opportunities for women pastors.

The aforementioned suggestions will not answer all of the issues related to the dearth of women pastors.  However, such efforts will advance the work to get beyond the stained glass ceiling!