Sunday, December 15, 2013

Open Letter to the Presiding Bishop-Elect Joseph W. Walker and the "By Invitation Only" Attendees of the Inaugural Meeting of the SHIFT

December 12, 2013

Open Letter to Presiding Bishop-Elect Joseph W. Walker III and the By Invitation OnlyAttendees of the Inaugural Meeting of the SHIFT


How an initiative begins significantly affects how it goes forward.

We read with interest the well-crafted December 9  press release  of the coming SHIFT, a new initiative spearheaded by Rev. Joseph W. Walker III, Presiding Bishop-Elect of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. We paid special attention to the quotations and looked at the pictures. What a curious title: Rebranding in the body of Christ: The Ultimate Leader Shift.

As we read the letter, we became increasingly more disturbed and troubled. Although our first response was no women were in the room, in fact our concerns are deeper. It was just sinful and wrongheaded for a group of men to gather without active, real participation of women. We want to be clear about what disturbs us in this moment. Generally, we ignore lists of 100 most influential, 10 best preachers, could we know who are the 10 best preachers, given all the powerful preachers who will never have a stage? So we read chosen ones and
greatest movement with a grain of salt. But if those gathered intended to communicate an inclusive, progressive, dynamic, forward thinking agenda, your images and rhetoric failed you.

The  post-letter from Bishop Walkerapparently written in response to comments made about the  absence of womensaid a number of women who were invited many were unable to attend (though there were NONE present). We are hard-pressed to believe that all those busy men could come to the SHIFT meeting, but not one woman was available at the time. Quite frankly, if scheduling the meeting proved to be that problematic for women only, then one would be forced to rethink its planning strategies and organization. In the interest of being in solidarity with your womanist sister clergy, if this initiative really intended to be new, progressive, and bold, we think our Womanist/Black Feminist allies in the photo ought have refused to meet or release anything without a critical mass of sister leaders present, not as tokens, but as full participants. If there were men in that room who were in fact appalled by the lack of female representation because they did not know beforehand who would attend, we would hope that our brother allies would publicly declare their disappointment that a meeting with no women present was not rescheduled.

That’s what solidarity and ally-ship look like.

Weve been chastened not to call black male church leaders out in public. Weve been told that we have misunderstood. The rising bishop responded in his follow-up letter in what he called a teaching moment that we should ask questions rather than assume, presumably to correct his errant critics. We say that the gathered brotherhood of clergy should make their commitments clearer. What exactly do they hope to accomplish on behalf of the church? Does it matter to anyone other than women that women are invisible in a gathering of putatively this import? The Bishops letter read like a justification for  male privilege. The usually “invisible cloak of arrogance and male-only leadership was visible. All the rhetoric sounded like everything weve ever heard from male-dominated meetings.

As Womanists-Feminists-preachers-scholars-activists our responses come from several places. We are not making assumptions. Your press release and its attending images speak volumes. You are not interested in iconoclastically breaking from tradition. Youve made clear that even if women were invited their insight, input, or wisdom was not considered significant enough for the group to wait. Indeed, the notion that women have to be “included is itself a male privilege power move. Surely, you are aware that most black churches are comprised of as much as 80% female membership. We also know  that women do the majority of the work of the church, without whose labor the organization and mission would fail. To be crystal clear, womens gifts and capacities in all aspects of church leadership are as critical to the survival, relevance and progression of the church as mens. Are women not already included in Gods plans?

Youve communicatedloudlythat  (male) Generals would strategize and tell all the foot soldiers what to do. A clear inference one gets from your invitation to meet is that God only calls Generals who are notorious and already celebrity preachers, i.e., those considered “important and special people. Only those with thousands of members know anything about impact or leadership. We understand. That presumption makes sense in an entrepreneurial understanding of the church, where faithfulness is measured only in dollars and size. It smacks of religious elitism. What could an inner-city pastor with only a few members whos faced gangs and helped people who are poor and struggling to thrive possibly have to offer? Youve communicated that the hierarchical, Fathers-know-best, male-centric table works for you and you’ll scoot over and cram in a couple more of some you deem worthy. It is presumptuous and ill thought-out.

We will take you at your word that you didnt intend to communicate most of the above, if you’ll take our word that’s how many people who care equally about the future of the church received it.

Intent and impact are two very different things. Be clear. Images matter. Rhetoric matters.

In this climate in which the black church finds itself on the brink of becoming irrelevant in the publics eyes and where black preachers are portrayed on TV as money-grubbing pimps in the pulpit, it would seem that preachers serious about redeeming the times and restoring the reputation of the black church would be committed to justice that reflects genuine shared leadership with women. More than 27 years ago, Rev. Prathia Hall challenged the black Baptist Church on its rampant patronizing exclusion of women, and we find ourselves having to do the same. Dr. Renita Weems once asked, What will it mean in the history of the church if record droves of women experience and accept their call and we go on with business as usual? By your omission, you dishonor the legacy, ministry and lives of the biblical general Deborah and prophet Huldah; the church house leader Chloe; and deacon Phoebe and co-workers in the gospel Euodia and Syntyche. You dishonor the work and ministry of women such as Jarena Lee, Septima Clark, Ella P. Mitchell, Brenda Piper Little, Shirley Prince, and Bishop Barbara Harris, and countless of notable and unnamed others.

The challenge with critiquing SHIFT and movements that exclude more of Gods people than they include is that onlookers immediately think it's personal. Religious male-centered leadership is "normal" and sacred and any attempt to question it is deemed perverse or personal. Our call is not for women to have access to patriarchal power, but that we all work together to create new, healthier, more humaneand therefore more godly—systems. We ask you to consider, not only those at the table youve spread, but those who are not present. We believe such consideration is central to the ministry of Christ. Women are invisible at the table, but so are many others, including, self-identified same-gender loving Christians. As you consider what or who has their feet on the necks of those you want to liberate, consider whose necks your feet may be holding down. Self-reflection and self-critique are deeply important in justice work.

In response to your invitation for dialogue, here are a few questions to get the dialogue going: How do leaders who claim to fight for justice not know that sexismexcluding women or only including them as afterthoughtsis just as vile and sinful as racism and that it takes intentionality to transform, if in fact you intend to do so? How do self-proclaimed Womanist allies not include women and men who are Womanists and/or Black Feminists in the shaping of vision? Womanist/Black Feminists are not concerned only with the “inclusion of women in public religious life. That’s about numbers. As people of faith, committed to the cause of radical inclusion, justice and love, we would be remiss in our integrity and derelict in our respective vocations, if we did not speak to injustices and oppressions as evidenced by this introduction of your initiative. We are interested in vision and shared influence and the building of the Commonwealth of God, beloved communities where everyone is valued, heard, protected, and helped to thrive, even if we disagree with them on a number of fronts. Jesus modeled this expansive community best and thus was persecuted for it by self-styled religious movers and shakers of his day.

One last point. You can understand, cant you, why talk about core family values by a fraternity of male preachers raises concern for many of us? We have seen from this last election cycle what happens to women, poor families, and same-gender loving people when right-wing conservatives draft laws and draw up policies in the name of God and family values. Is SHIFT an initiative of black men merely reflecting the same toxic politics and policies? In other words, who is permitted to sit at the table and to fully participate as self-possessed people? Are single people okay as single, or are they people who need to get married? What about single people whove adopted children and built families on the village modela very African approach to family? Is there room for LGBTQ families already among your ranks, or is yours a movement bent on silencing, demonizing, or maligning them? Is there enough emotional, theological, and intellectual bandwidth within the organization to partner for social change with people with whom you dont agree? I wonder what would happen if you thought Dream Defenders, New Black Man (in Exile), Moral Monday activists or Black Youth Project members, leaders of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, for example, were just as important collaborating partners FROM THE BEGINNING?

Bishop Walker noted that womens full inclusion is a key priority. If so, one social justice organizer said, “If you say it’s for us, dont do it without us. A noted activist once said that if you’re comfortable with everyone in the room, you’re not leading a revolution.

Finally, you may ask: What do you want to happen?

We want this group to commit that all future SHIFT meetings will include women religious leaders around the table, clergy and lay, pastors and academicsthe presence of women whose voices you admit are critical and crucial to participating with male religious leaders in redeeming the times and redeeming the future of the black church.

We want members of the group to publicly acknowledge that, though you may not have intended the slight, this first gathering was sinful and flawed by these exclusions. If this exclusion was not the intended message, take a good faith opportunity to correct that error.

We raise these concerns and questions because it is faithful and just to do so.  As catalyst for this letter, Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, along with any number of the undersigned are willing to be in an open dialogue with Bishop-Elect Walker and any of those in that first meeting.

In the Struggle and in the Spirit,

Rev. Valerie Bridgeman, Ph.D.
Biblical and Homiletics Scholar
President & CEO of WomanPreach! Inc.
Board of Trustees, Samuel
DeWitt Proctor Conference

Dr. Iva E. Carruthers
General Secretary
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

Rev. Carolyn Ann Knight
The Seminary Without Walls
Smyrna, Georgia

Bishop Yvette Flunder
Presiding Prelate, The
Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
Pastor, City of Refuge
San Francisco, CA

Rev. Leslie D. Callahan, Ph.D.
Pastor, St. Paul's Baptist Church Philadelphia, PA

Jaha Zainabu, Poet

Rev. Maisha I. K. Handy, Ph.D.
Pastor, Rize Community Church Associate Provost Interdenominational  Theological Center

Robert Hoggard
Founder & President
American Baptist College Affiliate of S.C.L.C

Matthew Wesley Williams
Lithonia, GA

Rev. Donna M. Vanhook
Burlington, NC

Rev. Marsha Foster Boyd, PhD Englewood OH

Rev. Cedrick Von Jackson

The Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD Chair of the Biblical Area and Associate Professor, Hebrew, Jewish and Christian Scripture The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

Min. Jamie Eaddy

Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson
Executive Pastor
The Concord Baptist Church of
Christ, Brooklyn, NY

Rev. Andrea Clark
Assistant Pastor
Antioch Baptist Church
Tulsa, OK

Rev. Quincy James Rineheart,
M.Div., S.T.M.

Rev. Dawnn M. Brumfield,
Associate Pastor
Urban Village Church
Chicago, IL

Ashon Crawley

Pastor Michelle E. Freeman,
M.Div., Houston, TX

Min. L. Proverbs Briggs, Atlanta, GA

Rev. Dollie Howell Pankey, MACM, MTS
Pastor, St. James Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Jasper, Alabama

Rev. Catharine A. Cummings, M.Div.
Pastor, Wesley UMC Church, Springfield, MA

Rev. Earle J. Fisher, M.Div. Senior Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church (Memphis) Adjunct Instructor of Contemporary Theology at Rhodes College

Rev Dr Mitzi J. Smith, Ph.D

Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. Professor, Biblical Interpretation New York Theological Seminary Visiting Scholar of Religion & African American Studies, Columbia University

Min. Hazel M. Cherry, Oakland, CA,
M.Div. Candidate
Howard University School of

Bishop Andre L. Jackson
Founding Pastor, New Vision
Full Gospel Baptist Church, East Orange, NJ
MA in Practical Theology/ M.Ed Candidate
Regent University, VA

Rev Candace Lewis, United
Methodist clergy

Rev. JoAnne Marie Terrell, PhD Associate Professor of Ethics, Theology, and
the Arts
Chicago Theological Seminary

Rev. Dianna N. Watkins-
Chaplain, USAF

Larry T. Crudup
M.Div. Candidate
Perkins School of Theology

Rev. Rosalyn R. Nichols, D.Min. Organizing Pastor, Freedom's Chapel Christian Church (DOC) Memphis, TN

Min. Guy Sebastian Johnson, Leesburg, VA, M.Div. Candidate Lancaster Theological Seminary

EL Kornegay Jr., Ph.D. CEO/Founder
The Baldwin~Delaney Institute
Chicago, IL

Liz S. Alexander, Seminarian
Chicago, IL
Candice M. Benbow
Durham, North Carolina

Dr. Irie Lynne Session
Senior Pastor
The Avenue - Warren Avenue Christian Church | Dallas, Texas MDiv. Black Church Studies Concentration | Brite Divinity School DMin. Transformative Leadership & Prophetic Preaching | Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

Rev. Dionne P. Boissiere, M.Div. Consultant, WomanPreach! Inc.
& Director, Womens Center  
New York Theological Seminary

Rev. Stephanie A. Duzant, MSW
Hollis, Queens NYC

Min. Louis J. Mitchell
South Congregational Church
Springfield, MA

Minister Rhonda White-Warner, M.Div., D.Min. Candidate, SF Theological Seminary
Founder Alabaster Jar
Ministries, Oakland, CA

Toby D. Sanders, Pastor
Beloved Community

Rev. Reginald W. Williams, Jr. Pastor, First Baptist Church of University Park
University Park, IL

Bishop John Selders Pastor Amistad UCC & Bishop Presider Interdenominational  Conference of Liberation Congregations and Ministries

Rev. Marilyn E. Thornton, Director/Campus Minister
The Wesley Foundation at Fisk
University, Nashville, TN

Rev. Wm. Jermaine Richardson

Dr. Safiyah Fosua Assistant Professor Congregational Worship Wesley Seminary @ IWU
Brittney C. Cooper, Ph.D.
Departments of Women's &
Gender Studies & Africana Studies
Rutgers University

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright
Board of Trustees, Samuel
DeWitt Proctor Conference

Myia Williams-Sanders

Rev. Martin L. Espinosa
Senior Pastor
Ray of Hope Community
Church, Nashville, TN

Rev. Vivian Nixon, Chief
Executive Officer College and Community Fellowship and Founder
Education Inside Out Coalition
J.T. Thomas, Cleveland, OH

Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson
Senior Pastor
The Concord Baptist Church of
Christ, Brooklyn NY
Associate Professor of Homiletics,
Drew Theological Seminary

Keri Day, PhD
Professor of Ethics & Director of
Black Church Studies,
Brite Divinity School

Rev Toni DiPina, Pastor Rockdale Congregational Church Northbridge, MA

Rashad D. Grove

Rev. Carla A. Jones

Jeralyn B. Major

Charles Bowie, Ph.D

Rev. Carla Patterson
Associate Minister
Friendship Missionary Baptist
Church, Charlotte, NC

Rev. Vanessa M. Brown

Karlene Griffiths Sekou, MPH, MTS
Dignidad International
Cambridge, MA

Rev. Felicia Y. Thomas

Rev. Carla Patterson

Rev. Alisha Lola Jones, M.Div.
CEO & Founder
InSight Initiative, Inc.

Rev. Margaret Aymer, Ph. D.
Associate Professor
Interdenominational  Theological

Min. Brenda Summerville, M.Div.
Chicago, IL

Roger A. Sneed, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Religion
Furman University

Rev. Andre E. Johnson, PhD.
Pastor, Gifts of Life Ministries, Memphis, TN

Dr. James L Netters Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Religion and African American Studies,
Memphis Theological Seminary

Rev. Althea Bailey

Rev. Yvette A. Assem, M.Div. Womanist Missionary
Language of the
Black Woman's Touch

Min. Robin P. Sessoms, M.Div.
Rev. Dorothy Harris, J.D., Pastor
Unity Fellowship Church of
Columbia (Maryland)

Carla E. Banks
Rev. Toni Dunbar, D.Min.
Associate Pastor & Dean
City of Refuge United Church of
Christ, Oakland, CA
Executive Director, YA Flunder
Founder & Director, Refuge Leadership Development Institute

Rev. Gwen Thomas, M. Ed. Author, LGBT activist, & Huffington Post blogger

The Rev. Canon Terence
Alexander Lee, Rector
St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church, Hollis, NY

Rev. W. Jeffrey Campbell, Executive Director
Hudson Pride Connections
Center, Jersey City, NJ

Evan R. Bunch

Pastor Genetta Y Hatcher
Detroit, Michigan

The Rev. Fr. Marcus G. Halley,
Associate Priest
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church - Kansas City, MO

Rev. Dr. MarQuita Carmichael

Rev. Don Darius Butler, Pastor Tabernacle Community Baptist Church
Milwaukee, WI

Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, Ph.D.
The Historic Ebenezer Baptist
Church, Atlanta, GA

Dr. Tony McNeill, DWS, Director of Worship & The Arts
Historic Ebenezer Baptist
Church - Atlanta, GA

Min. Davica Williams-Warren, M.Div., Miami, FL

Rev. Frank A. Thomas, Ph.D.
Director of the Academy of
Preaching and Celebration
The Nettie Sweeney and Hugh T. Miller
Professor of Homelitics
Christian Theological Seminary

Rev. William I. Spencer

Min. Kymberly McNair
Social Justice Coordinator
Antioch Baptist Church
Bedford Hills, NY

Dr. Teresa Fry Brown
Director Black Church Studies Program
And Professor of Homiletics
Emory University, Atlanta, GA

Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce,
Director, Black Church Studies
Princeton Theological Seminary

Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis
Director of the Center for African American Ministries & Black Church Studies and
Adjunct Professor
McCormick Theological Seminary
Chicago, IL
UCC Pastor

Rev. Kimberly G. Walker, Pastor
Village of Hope CME Church
Stone Mountain, GA

Joshua Crutchfield
Nashville, TN

Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings
New Covenant Christian Church
Nashville, TN

Rev. Dominique C. Atchison, M.Div.
Associate Minister
Brown Memorial Baptist Church
Sacred Conversations on Race Coordinator
Connecticut Conference UCC

Rev. Chaka S. Holley, MSW, M.Div.

Dr. Lynne S. Darden
Assistant Professor New Testament
Interdenominational Theological Seminary
Atlanta, GA

Rev. Cassandry Redmond, M.Div.
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Richmond, CA

Renita J. Weems, Ph.D.
Biblical Scholar
Nashville, TN

Pamela R. Lightsey, PhD
Boston University School of Theology

Rev. Asa J. Lee
Arlington, VA

Rev. Carolyn Hutchinson
Temple Hills, MD

Rev. Rashad D. Grove, Pastor
First Baptist Church of Wayne Wayne, PA

The Rev. Dr. Violet Lee

Tamura A. Lomax, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies
Virginia Commonwealth

Darnell L. Moore writer and activist

Estee Nena Dillard

Rev. Cherisna Jean-Marie
Atlanta, GA

Rev. Tawana Davis
Executive Minister
Shorter Community AME Church Assistant Coordinator, Rocky Mountain District Women in Ministry

Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt,
Chicago Theological Seminary
Chicago, IL, UCC

Jamall Andrew Calloway, S.T.M. Associate Minister
Mt. Aery Baptist Church, Bridgeport, CT

Rev. Benjamin Ledell Reynolds,
PhD student
Chicago Theological Seminary

Fallon Wilson, M.A., ABD University of Chicago

Rev. Karyn Carlo PhD

Rev. Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes
Assistant Pastor of Special Projects
Union Baptist Church
Cambridge, Massachusetts

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor
Colby College, Waterville, Maine

Rev. Charisse R. Tucker,
Minister of Administration
St. Paul's Baptist Church,
Philadelphia, PA

Terry T. Hocker, Sr.
Bound By Truth And Love
Ministries, Cincinnati, OH

Rev. Jamie D. Hawley, Chaplain
University of Michigan

Rev. Kendal Brown
Dean of Students
Lancaster Theological Seminary

Rev. Melva L. Sampson

M. Brandon McCormack, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Departments of Pan-African Studies and Humanities (Religious Studies)
University of Louisville

Charlotte Caldwell

Rev. Brian Foulks
Lexington, SC

Lisa Ann Anderson

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou
Pastor for Formation and Justice
The First Baptist Church in
Jamaica Plain (Boston, MA)

Rev. Dorian Mendez-Vaz, President & Founder
Within Her Reach, Inc.

Min. Ryan Hawthorne, M.Div. Princeton Theological Seminary

Rev. Kimberly Henderson
Philadelphia, PA

Rev. Raedorah C. Stewart, MA Preacher, Poet, Mother of a Son

Rev. T. Renée Crutcher, Founder/President
Sankofa Ministries & Tellin' Our
Story Publishing, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

Min. Kamilah Hall Sharp, J.D. M. Div. Candidate
Memphis Theological Seminary

Bishop Dwayne D. Royster,
Senior Pastor, Living Water
United Church of Christ General Secretary, Higher Ground Christian Fellowship International

Dr. Donique McIntosh
Associate Pastor
Namaste' United Church of

Minister Kelli X, M.Div
Madison, TN

Rev. Sharon L. Bowers
UMC Pastor
ITC Alumna

Rev. James A. Hardaway, M.Div., MACE
Pastor, Mount Gilead AME Church, Columbus, GA

Rev. Stephanie Buckhanon
Crowder, Ph.D.

Keith Crawford, Jr.

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