The Atlantic

A Conservative Christian Battle Over Gender

Some communities agree that women shouldn’t be pastors. But their members fiercely debate every other kind of women’s empowerment.
Source: mikeledray / 21kompot / shutterstock / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

For much of her adult Christian life, Christina Edmondson has felt like “a unicorn”: At any given time, she told me, she might be the only black woman present at a professional meeting or worship session. She and her husband live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works as a dean at Calvin College, a small Christian liberal-arts school, and he pastors an Orthodox Presbyterian church plant. This spring, Edmondson and two friends, Ekemini Uwan and Michelle Higgins, started a podcast called Truth’s Table for other “unicorns” like them: Black women who often feel lonely navigating predominantly white Christian spaces, or who are generally looking for “a seat at the table,” as the women put it.

Half a dozen episodes in, the women decided to take up the topic of gender—specifically, the “gender apartheid” they see in Christianity. According to Uwan, there is “this wall, a very visible wall, erected in the church between men and women.” Many Christian conferences address “race, racism, [and] racial reconciliation, trying to do justice in those spheres,” she said, “but yet completely ignore the toxic patriarchy that is so embedded within the church.” Joined by Tyler Burns and Jemar Tisby, two black Christian men who host another podcast called Pass the Mic, the group discussed churches where women aren’t allowed to greet at the door; pastors who minimize emotional language in worship; and men who avoid friendship with women for fear of violating biblical standards of purity.

When they got to the topic of ordination, things grew heated. “What does the word ‘ordain-able’ mean? It literally means, ‘possesses a penis,’” Higgins said. “It does not mean, ‘is currently in seminary, has graduated with an M.Div,” or master’s in divinity, “‘and has gone before a licensure committee.’” The focus on male ordination often blocks women out of other leadership roles, she argued. “No one will hear me unless maybe I design and develop a penis-shaped microphone. … Maybe we should have a line of penis microphones, because it is all that you need to have to pass out communion, to take up the offering.”

Edmondson, Higgins

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