We are so privileged to share this interview with you. The interview questions were sent with no idea that they would return such a beautiful community response. As I read the answers I was moved to tears at the amazing things God is doing! I hope you will be as encouraged as I am.
Because CBE-Voices of Color was formed with a group of people who function as the leaders, we have answered this questionnaire as a team, in the hope that even our different voices shed light on the goals of CBE-VOC.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your ministry work?
Raya: Sure! Rabid feminist in the religious space. Working mom married to a man from a Muslim background. Always learning and trying to get better and sitting down and listening to the perspectives of others. Mom of a 3 year old son (which puts a new spin on feminist perspectives), lawyer, and data privacy activist.
Eugene:I served as a pastor for over 12 years before going to work for a women’s rights organization. These days, I’m the author of FeministAsianDad.com as well as a freelance writer and speaker. My wife and I have two daughters, ages 8 and 11.
Tega: I’m a Nigerian-born African-American and a spiritual mutt- part Anglican, part Pentecostal, part Presbyterian, part Roman Catholic! Enough to say that I am strongly ecumenical! I left a first career in the medical field to answer the call to pastoral leadership and ministry eighteen years ago. I am also the founding pastor of Refreshing Springs Ministry, formerly of Maryland, but now in Ambridge & Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. RSM now constitutes one of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities of the Presbyterian Church(USA). I also have the privilege of being mother of one very adorable daughter!
When did you start CBE – Voices of Color?
We launched CBE-Voices of Color in January of 2017.
The Voices of Color Chapter is a place to intentionally jumpstart and sustain conversation about the gender equality issues that are the unique plights of women of color. Tega
Christians for Biblical Equality is traditionally about equality for women in ministry. Is Voices of Color for women of color?
Raya: CBE is single- handedly the reason that I – a Caucasian woman raised in some very restrictive gendered denominations (Bill Gothard, quiverfull, Independent Baptist – remain in the church. Discovering a religious environment in which I could claim my value as a woman and God’s child and workout my boundaries, beliefs, and vision of the God I follow without shame was healing in a way that I can’t convey in words. I’ve seen first-hand the fruits of a theology that reduces women – and I want all women to experience the freedom that CBE gave me, to discover a place where they can be fully female, fully Christian and fully valued. I hope CBE-VOC adds “fully ______(culture/race)_____” to that sentence for the hundreds of women searching for their own value and power in Christ.
Eugene: VOC is for both women of color and for men of color who support equality!
Tega: Actually, CBE is about equality for women with men in all spheres of life (home, church, marketplace, etc.) and not just in ministry. If women are equal everywhere else, they will be equal in ministry…
The Voices of Color Chapter is a place to intentionally jumpstart and sustain conversation about the gender equality issues that are the unique plights of women of color.
Why is this extra group necessary? Aren’t women of color included in the idea of all women?
Raya: In theory, yes. In reality, not always. It doesn’t take a lot of research to realize that (a) the female voice is often silenced, and (b) when a female voice is accepted, it’s usually a Caucasian voice. Why is that problematic ? WOC face different or greater obstacles. A bigger pay gap. More exploitation by authorities. The complexity of the intersection of race and gender in a colossal waterfall of issues, sensitivities, and perceptions that must be navigated to even reach the starting line that everyone else starts from. The healing power of a community can’t be overrated – putting WOC together to share strategies (as cold and corporate as it sounds) and empathy will empower my fellow WOC to achieve and change the world! Giving WOC their own space to work out the nuances of intersectional feminism in the church will ultimately make a better church for us all.
Eugene: They are included, but there are issues that women of color face due to race and ethnicity that intersect with matters of gender.
Tega: In addition to what Raya and Eugene said, this group is necessary because the larger Christian gender equality advocacy is dominated by Western/Caucasian/White ‘voices.’ As such, there isn’t much room for understanding and sustaining efforts and conversation regarding the peculiar issues of women of color. Oftentimes, when women of color have spoken about their peculiar issues in the larger conversation about gender equality, it has been met with resistance, criticism and a ‘refusal’ to hear. The majority of our Caucasian brothers and sisters, rather than listening to, hearing and learning from our conversation, would rather ‘define’ and or negate our experiences and history!
On the flip side, women of color do not always ‘own’ the gender equality issues we face. In the words of one of our women, “we have been so conditioned to see gender inequality as okay, that any deviation from this is seen as ‘wrong.’ So having a space like this is to gently encourage women of color who are willing, to own their stories in a place that it will not be lost among the dominant Caucasian voices, thereby leading to the wrong thought that gender equality is a ‘White thing’ rather than a human thing!
What are some of the unique challenges faced by women of color in ministry?
Raya: From my position, I see them in the USA often put in a position where they’re pressured to express either (a) support of women, with the implicit message that non-WOC female followers will withdraw support if they don’t speak up, or (b) support of their race, with the implicit message that men of their race will with draw support if they don’t comply. It seems like such a difficult position to be in, and doesn’t fully support their needs as members of both camps. But ultimately an answer for WOC to provide … and likely to vary from individual to individual.
Eugene: Women of color in ministry often face an additional layer of patriarchy. Not only do they have to deal with theology-based male dominance, but also with ethnocultural-based patriarchy.
Tega: Speaking from my perspective and opinion as a Black woman of color in ministry in America, I will say this…There are too few of us scattered all over the place and not enough solidarity. Wherever we are, we often stand alone, and this can work detrimentally in two ways – we can either lose our voice in the dominant White male (and sometimes White female) environment and ‘blend’ in, which leads to a loss of representation and connection with our peculiar issues or we can choose to present our unique minor perspectives and be marginalized even further.
Additionally, many women of color in ministry are not always well-accepted as their men of color in ministry counterparts. Where there are men and women of color in ministry, the men of color will be more likely to be affirmed by the dominant White (male) leaders and body and even by the Black community! Women of color in ministry are often seen as ‘suspect’ except they are ‘under the covering of a male minister!’
Listen. Listen, empathize, listen, question (no need for soft bigotry), and then listen. Raya
Are there things we can all do to help support women of color in and out of ministry?
Raya: Listen. Listen, empathize, listen, question (no need for soft bigotry), and then listen. … my mother in law, in her fifties, packed up, moved to an entirely new culture, learned a new language, and made new friends. We don’t agree on religion (she’s Sunni) but her fearlessness in the face of these challenges inspires (and honestly, intimidates) me. We can all learn from each other. WOC bring amazing strength, perseverance and power to the table as often as any other group. The church’s lack of acknowledgement of this weakens us.
Eugene: One thing that is often missing in Christian conferences in the United States is diversity among the group of speakers. It shouldn’t be that way! We can all highlight and amplify the voices of women of color, both at conferences and on a regular basis!
Tega: Yes! Listen, – wherever a woman of color speaks, listen! Part of the problem with lumping women of color together in the general gender equality advocacy, is that the dominant Caucasian group is not ‘used’ to hearing or learning from people of color (it’s the ethnic version of ‘I suffer not a woman to preach/teach a man’ i.e., ‘I suffer not a woman of color to preach/teach White folks!’ Learning involves a certain humility and submission to another’s voice in place and time.
Listen, – wherever a woman of color speaks, listen! Tega
Because of Caucasian colonization of the world and Christianity, the West has lost touch with the practice of the mutual hospitality of listening to one another. Instead, everything is filtered through White lenses and White ears. If the larger egalitarian church body is to successfully include and represent women of color, then it must first allow itself to be the recurring guest, rather than host of the women of color narratives, just as people of color have traditionally been the recurring guest of Western narratives.
Practical ways to accomplish this include, but not limited to the same dynamics for empowering any marginalized group(s): partner with them rather than patronize them. Partnership comes alongside you to help you do what you are already doing. Patronage says ‘do it my way and I’ll support you!’
When we ‘support’ and ‘partner’ to empower women of color, we should support and affirm the spaces they occupy by letting them be the masters of their own stories. Too often, support for women of color has revolved around ‘speaking for them’ rather than allowing them speak for themselves and coming alongside to affirm their narratives.
Our voices are the minority. Our flavors of communication are not as well-known, yet they are not irrelevant or less important. Become consumers of our flavors – that’s the only way the dominant Western culture and thought will properly include women of color in the gender equality conversation.
By the way, this goes for both Western and people of color, because one of the unique things about being a person of color is that even we, are colonized to think ‘White’ in our thoughts and attitudes towards other people of color!
partner with them rather than patronize them. Partnership comes alongside you to help you do what you are already doing. Patronage says ‘do it my way and I’ll support you!’ Tega
What is one of the greatest challenges you are facing with CBE-Voices of Color?
Raya: I’m in quite a few intersectional groups online and they often devolve into squabbling between white feminists and men of color over whether sexism or racism is a bigger issue. I see the WOC voice erased in those discussions and it concerns me. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the WOC in the group to decide what serves them and their spiritual walk and I’ll abide by that decision.
Eugene: None I can think of at the moment!
Tega: Breaking through the acculturated Westernization of people of color, even while remaining part of the people of color ‘tribe!’ To address the issues of colonial patriarchy provokes most of our White brothers and sisters. To address the issues of patriarchy among people of color, provokes both men and women of color. Our gender equality struggle seems to be in its infantile stages compared to that of our Western/European sisters. We need many incubators to encourage more women and men of color to join the gender equality conversation without fear of losing their places in their tribes and communities.
I hope VOC brings encouragement to egalitarian women of color and their male allies, providing a safe space that both supports them in their frustrations and equips them for pursuing change in their faith communities. Eugene
What do you hope Voices of Color will do to bring change?
Raya: I pray daily that it will give WOC like my in-laws a safe place to do what CBE did for me – work out my pain, rage, faith, frustration and hope in an co-Ed/multi-race environment of *VERY * supportive souls who passionately defended my equality and value, even when I was venting some difficult criticisms of their gender/denomination. A place for WOC to speak freely and find strength and power.
Eugene: I hope VOC brings encouragement to egalitarian women of color and their male allies, providing a safe space that both supports them in their frustrations and equips them for pursuing change in their faith communities.
Tega: I hope it provides evidence that people of color (men and women) are part of this struggle and that gender equality is NOT a White thing! I strongly pray and hope that it becomes a place of ‘learning’ that results in change for people of color who have not yet heard the Gospel of the freedom to men and women relationships that the Cross of Christ brings! I hope that it becomes a place of reconciliation that is steeped in appreciation and respect for the diversity of people groups that constitute the imago dei. I pray that it becomes a place for healthy conversation among people of color about gender equality issues in their own contexts and in their own unique methods of communication.
How does someone become a writer for you? What are the requirements?
At this time, because the goal of CBE-Voices of Color is to involve more people of color INTO the biblical equality conversation, we invite people of color as our writers/authors team. However, there’s also room for others who have had a significant immersion experience with people of color to also share their advocacy for egalitarianism on behalf of people of color. If you fit any of these, simply indicate your interest via either Facebook messaging or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to be heard and introduced to the biblical egalitarian community in Thomas Talks and beyond. God bless you!
We pray for each of you and for your ministry as God grows your voice and your influence. Please always consider us partners in the work you are doing for the Kingdom!