A few years ago I began to observe a positive trend happening on social media. People were beginning to notice and speak on the lack of presence of women of color on the speaker and/or writer agenda’s of some significant Christian assemblies. A few people took it upon themselves to list and tag Black, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and speakers & writers of different ethnicities, as to draw attention to the numerous Christian women who could potentially be included when planning out future schedules. I even had the pleasure of making a few of those lists myself.
This trend has continued to this day from time to time when someone inquires about which women of color out there are voices of the gospel message today. For the most part, I have really appreciated this positive trend. Simultaneously, as time has gone on and those women of color lists continue to grace my computer screen, I can’t help but notice my hesitation when seeing them. I nod and type a “thank you” when I see my name tagged, but there’s something in me that no longer trusts it.
Not that I feel as though there are bad intentions behind it, but rather I wonder, what exactly is happening with these lists?
All sorts of questions come to mind now. Is this turning into a popularity contest? Do people only make the lists if they have over 1k followers on twitter? Is myself being included on these lists just another equivalent to “I’m not racist because I have a Black friend”?
That may seem extreme, but it’s unfortunate that I have to question that now. While I have seen some intentionality here and there when it comes to using these lists, conferences, chapels, church speaker lineups, blogs, etc. continue to lack ethnic and gender diversity.
If the conference centers on urban initiatives, it is palpable. Aside from that, it sticks out to me when I see a list of 20 speakers and 75% of them are male and the other percentage are white women and maybe one black woman on the list or another woman of color.
When I look at some of these feminist blogs and guest writer after guest writer are white women, I wonder what has happened with some of these women of color lists. When I look at some churches, specifically the ones with diverse congregations in diverse communities and I see all white and all male leadership, I wonder what has happened with some of these women of color lists.
When I worked at Azusa Pacific University, when planning to invite chapel speakers for the following school year, we would sit and think through each decision, making sure the students were exposed to women and men of various ethnicities. Along with that, the Director of Chapel Programs would make sure the speakers were varied as far as denomination, streams of faith and various other backgrounds that could help expose our students to how varied and multifaceted the body of Christ is.
It was then that I realized that while this process might require time and effort, it’s possible to put effort and intention in prioritizing diversity.
It wasn’t a perfect process and many times our good intentions didn’t always produce the diverse outcome that we would have liked, but there was clear effort. As the only black woman on the pastoral staff, I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that.
There are churches like Fellowship Monrovia in Southern California that are doing it well. Albert Tate’s pastoral and administrative staff is full of men and women of various ethnic and generational backgrounds because he knows that representation matters. As an ordained black woman, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that.
There are plenty of other examples of churches, conferences, colleges and other ministries that are doing it well. I use them as examples because I believe it’s time for many of us in leadership to re-assess how important prioritizing diversity is on our agendas. How important is it? And if it is a priority, what steps will you ensure that this message is communicated to your audience?
For some, I know this can be a complex process. In some cases, lines of mistrust may blur the ability for true connection to take place. Perhaps in others, reaching out may be met with suspicion or lack of willingness to associate.
In another case I know someone who ministers in an environment that isn’t diverse at all. He has asked me, what he can do to expose his congregation to know more women (and men) leaders of color. I suggested that he take some time to think about what time and resources he is willing to lend to his commitment to diversity.
I believe that once he answers that, he can then possibly think through what hires he can make, creative programming initiatives, conferences, workshops and a plethora of other actions he can put in place to move towards the direction he hopes to communicate.
Intentionality is the key word.
No one said this process was going to be easy, or without being met with a few bumps in the road. It was abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass who once said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” I believe this to be true of any movements towards reconciliation & the true reflection of the Imago Dei within the body of Christ.
These lists that we have seen circulating the past few years are a step in a positive direction and my hope is that ultimately, it would lead to more than just another person to add to the lineup, but even the start of a commitment to building relationships across gender and racial lines.
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