Missing Voices: Gender and Racial Slants to Our Theological Lens
When I sent an early draft of this piece to an audience of different ethnicities and
both genders, I received a variety of responses that prompted me to write this preamble to the
I don’t desire to place all white men in the same category. (Please read another
article of mine where I share some of my more positive experiences working in flourishing
environments with men. A few of whom gave feedback on this post).
I do, however, hold the powerholders responsible. If you are man, I beg you not to let the
emotion of this piece shut off your heart to its message.
With love in Christ,
I had a crisis of conscience the last Sunday of Advent that overshadowed my ability to sing Christmas Carols with the same enthusiasm and joy as previous years. It happened while visiting the church of a friend and hearing a portion of the sermon series on the history of Christmas carols. It struck me that the lyricist and the composer who wrote O Little Town of Bethlehem were both white men.
I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask, “Are there any Christmas Carols not written by white men?”
The answer, to my deep sadness, is, while there are some hymns in the western Christian tradition written by women and minorities, the overwhelming majority are written by white men.
The First Noel, We Three Kings, Silent Night, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Away in a Manger—all our favorites—were written and composed by white men. The rest of the week before Christmas, I was moved by the stunning lyrics we’ve used to celebrate our Savior for over a century. But I was moved in a different way than previous years. I was moved to grieving for the women and minorities who were denied opportunities that could have equipped them to write more words and music. What are we missing because our celebration is fueled by the words of white men?
Following Christmas, I couldn’t stop my grieving heart as I thought of the history of a culture that didn’t allow slaves to learn how to read, who relegated women to strict social and familial spheres and barred them from higher education. I thought of a church with a history of racism and discrimination against minority cultures and assigned women gender specific roles that, undoubtedly, led to squelched creativity and voices, often causing women and minorities to use white male pseudonyms for their publications.
This approach exists in the church today, often masquerading in the name of theological accuracy. While many in leadership at the seminary I attended made great efforts to included voices from the entire church—not just a set white minority—the dominate voice in our theological education was white male, both in our reading material and in our professorship. While women are not prevented from attaining theological training, it’s still decidedly a white man’s world. White men are held up as the superior voice in the theological community, but often the message is subtle and unconscious.
For example, I was listening to a podcast that encouraged women to study theology. One of the reasons given was for women to be informed so they could use discernment in their reading material. I agree with this reasoning one hundred percent, however, when the podcast listed names of authors and teachers who had “poor theology” every author and teacher was female. When the podcast gave recommendations for “theologically sound” reading material, every author was white and male.
I attended a conference recently that had an entirely white male teaching docket. When I questioned this, I was told the pool of minority and women voices with sound theological perspective was small. That, coupled with availability, made the docket heavy with white men with an occasional token minority or female teacher. Considering the board of directors of this particular conference was also entirely white male, it could be concluded their “pool” was limited by their white male bias.
I am the last person to encourage choosing a woman or a minority just because they are a woman or a minority. Choose qualified women and qualified minorities, please. Just make sure theology and doctrine are truly the fingerprinting system being used for discernment. Can we ask the question—if it is truly so—why there are not more women and minority theologians in the pool? Or are they being overlooked because of an unconscious (sometimes overt) bias?
"To the theologically conservative churches who are limited in who can be on leadership, how are you saying yes to receive the voices of women and minorities? Are you even asking this question? Are you praying for women to fill ministry rolls other than children's ministry? Are you praying for minority leaders to be candidates for your eldership or diaconate? Or, are you upholding a cultural tradition (i.e. No women reading scripture, no women on staff as a ministry leaders, women only teaching kids etc.) instead of upholding the beauty of diversity and co-laboring partnership? Are you preserving your power by limiting who gets into the pulpit? Does your church mirror the cultural diversity of your city or has it been made in your own image? Unless we're willing to include the voices of women and minorities in our churches and our ministries, unless those in power are willing to give up that power the way Jesus gave up his, we will fail to be a city on a hill and salt and light to a dark and tasteless world. In a culturally divided world that is confused about gender and races, let us be the life-giving community that God intended us to be by reflecting the beauty of diversity, inclusivity, and love for neighbor."**
I believe that if a portion of the church is suffering, then the entire church is suffering. I believe the church should be leading the charge in promoting the flourishing of all humankind. While I’ve witnessed many powerholders make exemplary strides to include the whole church (not just a minority white male voice) in crafting words for our spiritual nourishment and worship of God, hear now my cry for more material for our souls from the minds and hearts of both women and men from the entire church body.
**Contributed by fellow ministry worker Scott Herron.
*Thank you also to the men and women who gave feedback on this post: Alicia Akins, Emily Kepley, Julie Spearing, Keith Moore, Paul Kim, Jenni De Jong, and Simone Stier. Many of you often get emails from me asking you to “read this.” Thank you for your consistent and faithful response!